I recently read this article in the Daily Mail about elevated levels of acrylamide found in some packaged foods such as baby cereals and potato chips. Just to be clear, acrylamide is not something that’s added to food, it’s a potentially carcinogenic substance that’s formed when foods are cooked or processed at high temperatures. This is particularly common in foods that are high in starches and sugars; think, baked goods, potato chips, fried foods, toast, etc.
According to Health Canada, we don’t know the level of acrylamide that’s safe to consume. The conclusion that acrylamide causes cancer was drawn from animal research. As acrylamide is pretty common in most of our diets, it’s likely safe at some level.
I found it interesting that the Daily Mail article failed to note what “elevated levels” meant. This article would be far more interesting if it included “normal” levels and the higher than usual levels of acrylamide that were found in these foods. As it stands, this article is just another example of fear mongering. The advice it gives is to avoid cooking potatoes beyond golden brown, and toasting bread to the “lightest acceptable” shade. It also advises against storing potatoes in the fridge as that increases the sugar levels (but we already knew that, right?) , hence leading to increased levels of acrylamide if baked, roasted, or fried.
Worried about acrylamide in your food? Your fear may or may not be warranted. As with much dietary research, the cancer link was established in animal research and has not been replicated in humans. Epidemiological research has not, thus far, supported a link between acrylamide in our diet and cancer (1). The best things you can do are things that you should already be doing… Limit your consumption of potato chips, french fries (and other fried treats), baked goods, try not to burn your food, and don’t feel too badly if you don’t like the crust.