Monday, November 25, 2013

The new trans fat? Acrylamide 11 Years Later.

My blog site search engine is currently broken.  This is unfortunate because several years ago,  I wrote a post about a chemical found in french fries that was linked to cancer or which actually caused cancer in experimental studies involving mice.  Of course the mice were fed foods with much more of the chemical than most of us would be exposed to, but anytime a substance is considered a carcinogen or in the case of acrylamide a "probable cancer causing substance," I tend to steer as clear of it as possible. 
When I wrote about acrylamide years ago, it did not pose much of a threat to me as I don't eat french fries, chips or any white potato foods.  But the latest report regarding acrylamide includes cereal based foods (which includes cookies, crackers, whole grains and cold cereal) and COFFEE!   This is a sad day.  (To be fair, the first report may have said the same thing and I glossed over it).
Acrylamide is not a naturally occurring substance, but one that is created during some cooking processes.  For example, using really high heats in frying, baking and roasting (coffee beans are roasted and that is how coffee becomes tainted with acrylamide).  In this way, acrylamide reminds me of the harmful chemicals that are created when red meat is grilled and for that matter, the cancer causing chemicals in cigarette smoke (which among other things, also has acrylamide) - the chemicals aren't there until you or someone else does something to the product. 
The FDA has issued some guidance to food manufacturers and growers to help them reduce the amount of the chemical that is 'created' when the foods are processed.  With regard to chips and fries, the sugar in the potato seems to interact with the heat causes acrylamide to develop, so farmers are encouraged to grow low sugar potatoes. For coffee lovers, it is good to know that some types of coffee bean have less acrylamide after roasting than others - the FDA report notes that one lower acrylamide coffee bean is the arabica type (my sister had long ago convinced me it was the better tasting roast and I agree).  
The cereal foods category has me a little perplexed and concerned both personally and professionally. Acrylamide is created from an amino acid in the grains, called asparagine.  When the grains are heated at high temperatures, this amino acid is effected. According to a report I read and link below, the major culprit is whole grain, yes ~ the kind we are supposed to eat more often. I wonder if this means my cereal bars, made from All Bran, oat bran and Kashi Go Lean, or my mini cakes, made from whole wheat and soy flour are sources of acrylamide in my diet. Not cool. This will be a challenge for the FDA because they encourage us to follow the dietary recommendations from the USDA/DHHS  which focus on a plant based diet high in whole grains and fiber.  
The FDA is currently studying the impact of acrylamide in levels Americans are likely to consume (i.e., less than the mice did) in order to determine if more serious measures need to be taken.
For now they recommended avoiding french fries and chips and dark or burnt toast. 
Here are some FDA links that offer more information. 
FDA Q and A 
Food sources and cooking 
This next link is the report to industry and it is very telling, e.g., it discusses growing, transporting, storing and prepping potatoes in a way to reduce the amount of acrylamide that will be produced when those specific potatoes are fried.   The report has a section on cereals and coffee as well. When I was reading this I began to feel the general public's frustration with nutrition science and guidance.  
Lastly, a public health statement from the CDCs Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from 2012.

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