Friday, September 13, 2013


Today I came across an unusual passing reference to the cooking chemical acrylamide in an on-line discussion of harmful health effects of eating grains. No comment on the "unhealthy grains" issue at the moment, but I do want to touch on acrylamide. Never heard of it? Don't feel badly. You have company. Most people who are exposed to it every day in their food don't know about it.

Actually, I am always surprised that people in the U.S. who are concerned about their health, don't pay more attention to this issue. After all, studies have shown acrylamide to be both carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and genotoxic ( causing damage of, or mutation of DNA ). But no, we are not totally sure yet. More research is still being done. After all, acrylamide was only identified in food in 2002, and "the big C" is not something that develops overnight. Currently, most of the concern about acrylamide is in European nations, particularly Sweden, Denmark, France and Germany - not in the U.S. or Canada.

So what exactly is it? Acrylamide is formed through something called the "Maillard reaction" which takes place when certain starchy foods are cooked (including baking, frying, and roasting) at high temperatures.

What is concerning is that studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have found that a lot of us carry this chemical in our bodies. True, some of this body burden of acrylaminde could be due to the fact that it is also present in cigarette smoke. But, there is no denying that it is also all over the place in the North American food supply. Baked items ( including your morning toast) are on that list. So are French fries and potato chips, plus a lot of others, including prunes and other dried fruit, prune juice, black olives, asparagus, and, oh dear,.... coffee. Just about everyone who eats cooked or processed foods gets a bit of acrylamide one way or the other.

There is more about acrylamide in The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food. The main discussion is in the chapter on Fruits and Vegetables with a box on "Don't Burn Those French Fries."

By the way, several of my predictions in the book have turned out to be correct, but not on acrylamide. I really thought that the U.S. would recognize this food risk sooner than it has. True, the FDA is keeping an eye on it and following what is being done in Europe, but all this is still very low key, hush, hush. No wonder, if it does prove to cause harm to humans (as well as test animals), this will have big dollar implications for the food industry.

In the meantime, the decision is yours. Personally, I keep this issue in mind, but don't go to extremes. For one thing, I don't eat burnt baked goods or potatoes, and I have never like prunes or asparagus. But I have to confess that I still drink coffee. Oh well...

To your good health,


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