Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has commented on the implications of the incorporation of acrylamide in the diet on the health of consumers. I imagine that at this point you will be thinking that, speaking of “acrylamide” I will be referring to the umpteenth contaminant or by-product of the chemical industry that in one way or another poisons us from unprocessed processed foods or bad-bad packaging with Bisphenol A and those things … The truth is that if your head goes down that road you’re wrong.
What is acrylamide?
It is a chemical substance that is formed naturally in those foods that contain carbohydrates when they are subjected, in the most mundane and habitual way possible, to high temperatures above 120ºC in low humidity conditions. That is to say, it is a substance generated spontaneously when certain foods (the great majority) are fried, baked, roasted, sautéed … Obviously, acrylamide is also produced in many industrially produced products.
In essence, acrylamide is the product of the well-known and appreciated Maillard reaction in which carbohydrates and amino acids (especially one called asparagine) react with each other in the aforementioned conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) to generate a compound brown (roasted) that is highly valued in various culinary techniques as it gives the product a peculiar aroma and flavor . That reaction is what for example gives rise to the crust of bread when baked , crispy fried potatoes , the genuine aroma (and texture) of freshly made cookies , and so on.
Is there a risk of exposure to acrylamide beyond food?
Of course yes. Notably, acrylamide is present in tobacco smoke , which means that in the case of smokers this is its most important source of exposure to acrylamide beyond that of the foods they consume. Not forgetting that passive smokers are also exposed to the tobacco acrylamide of smokers. In addition, acrylamide has a wide variety of non-food uses, for example in the industrial field and, for this reason some people may be exposed in their work to acrylamide either by cutaneous absorption or inhalation.
At what risk are consumers subject to acrylamide?
As I told you, last week the EFSA published a scientific opinion (the result of a draft that contains much more information on this subject) in which after evaluating all the scientific literature on the exposure to acrylamide was concluded in a way Synthetic the following:
- Studies in animal models confirm that acrylamide in foods increases the risk of developing cancer for all consumers of any age group.
- Children are the most exposed age group and therefore vulnerable given their lower body weight.
- Based on the current exposure of consumers to acrylamide, other possible harmful effects of this substance, such as its effects on the nervous system, the impact on pre and postnatal development and male fertility, should not be taken as a concern.
- The most important food groups at the time of contributing to the exposure of acrylamide are those that are acquired fried based on potatoes, coffee, cookies, crakers and those crispy breads, as well as bread.
- Both the characteristic ingredients of a certain product, as well as the storage conditions and the way they are processed (especially the temperature at which they are cooked) greatly influence the formation of acrylamide in foods.
- Cooking habits in homes can have a significant impact on the amount of acrylamide to which citizens are exposed.
Is there a tolerable amount of acrylamide that does not take risks?
I’m sorry to say but it’s time for the bad news, acrylamide and its metabolites are genotoxic and carcinogenic . This means that with any level of exposure there is a potential risk of causing damage to our genetic material and causing cancer. That is, the EFSA scientists conclude that they can not establish a tolerable daily intake for the inclusion of acrylamide with food . However, the EFSA warns us that although the studies that observe the current consumption of acrylamide are incomplete and inconclusive we can see that this is a case with important public health connotations, especially in the health of the youngest children .
Therefore, it would be highly recommended that consumers take the initiative to reduce this exposure to acrylamide, taking into account that its total elimination is practically impossible . To do this, in addition to controlling, not to abuse, regarding the amount of food of the groups already mentioned (especially in the case of the smallest) from the EFSA is suggested not toast too much food and make the variety of culinary technologies at home a healthy practice and for this alternate the ways of preparing food (boil, cook, steam, sauté, fry, roast, stew, etc.).
In any case the thing is complicated, to such an extent that the EFSA ends up making this kind of quite broad and unspecific recommendations:
“Balanced diets usually reduce the risk of exposure to potential risks related to food contamination. Balancing diet with a wide variety of foods (for example, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, even foods rich in carbohydrates that can generate acrylamide) could help consumers reduce their acrylamide intake. “
In short, you know that acrylamide is there and that it will be difficult for you not to say it is impossible to avoid it … but now that you know where to find it, it controls its presence.