• Acrylamide is a probably carcinogenic chemical found in products such as crisps, fries and cigarette smoke.

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical that occurs naturally in starch-rich foods when cooked at high temperatures (from 120°C with low humidity): baking and grilling, roasting and frying.

Acrylamide is also found in tobacco smoke and is used in many industrial applications (pesticides, cosmetics, paints, plastics, agriculture, water treatment, etc.).

Its presence in food was discovered by chance in 2002 by Swedish researchers.

The main sources of environmental exposure to acrylamide are food and cigarette smoke.

Acrylamide is a substance classified as probably carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO.

How is acrylamide formed?

Acrylamide is mainly formed from starch and the amino acid asparagine, found naturally in many foods.
The formation of acrylamide depends on:

  • the ingredients: products with a sugar content, potatoes, biscuits, etc.
  • storage conditions: cold promotes the production of sugars in potatoes
  • processing conditions: high-temperature cooking: frying, roasting, etc.

The chemical mechanism underlying the process of acrylamide formation during high temperature cooking is called the Maillard reaction. It is also this reaction that gives fried foods their characteristic colour, taste and consistency.

What are the foods that contain acrylamide?

Generally, fried potato products contain the most acrylamide:

  • fries
  • crisps
  • croquettes
  • fried potatoes
  • röstis

Cereal-based products:

  • crackers
  • biscuits
  • cakes
  • soft bread (crust), toast, gingerbread
  • pizza
  • pop-corn

Cocoa, coffee and coffee substitutes (chicory based), roasted nuts also contain acrylamide.

DID YOU KNOW? Potatoes and vegetables that are boiled or steamed and grilled fish and meats do not contain acrylamide.

What are the health risks of acrylamide?

According to the EFSA , acrylamide in foods potentially increases the risk of developing cancer, for consumers of all ages.

Studies show that acrylamide is neurotoxic (poisonous to the nervous system). In the human body, acrylamide can turn into a metabolite called glycidamide which is even more genotoxic (damages DNA) than acrylamide.

Although acrylamide sources are numerous, a healthy person with a healthy and varied diet, should not have to worry about exposure to these substances.

Acrylamide and glycidamide can, however, cross the placenta and affect the foetus in pregnant women. These substances could also have negative effects when exposure takes place during the first years of life.

In fact, children are the most exposed age group because of their low body weight.

What can be done to avoid acrylamide?

Beyond the formation of acrylamide during the frying process, the frequent consumption of fried foods is not recommended anyway because of the high fat content of these products.

In general, be sure to:

  • vary your diet as much as possible
  • consume fries, chips, biscuits, coffee and coffee substitutes in moderation
  • soak potatoes in water before frying
  • avoid burning but lightly brown chips at a maximum temperature of 175°C
  • cook fried potatoes until golden and not brown
  • toast bread as lightly as possible
  • bake your bread, biscuits and your pizzas as lightly as possible
  • vary your cooking methods: steam, stew, boil, etc.
  • avoid smoking and passive smoking, especially among children and pregnant women

Please note! Meat and fish should be cooked properly to avoid the risk of foodborne diseases.

More information:

Sciensano monitors the consumption of fried foods, analyses the presence of acrylamide in food and studies the consequences of exposure to acrylamide in the population.

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