|When Swedish scientists announced in late April that acrylamide, a compound found in plastics, is also formed when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, a shock wave hit consumers and researchers alike. Why the ensuing panic? The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled acrylamide a “probable human carcinogen,” because it’s been shown to cause cancer, as well as genetic, neurological and reproductive damage in animals. In fact, the researchers released the results prior to publication, because of the magnitude of the health concern.
French Fries Fingered Too. From more than one hundred samples of various foods, researchers from the University of Stockholm found the highest concentrations of acrylamide in potato chips and crispbreads, with lower levels in other carbohydrate-rich foods that were baked or fried, like French fries, crackers and cereals. Acrylamide was not found in raw foods, meats or starchy foods that were boiled, like rice or pasta.
Some experts have found flaws in the Swedish research. Only a small number of samples of any one food was tested, and the amounts of acrylamide found were a thousandfold less than levels shown to cause cancer in mice.
Concern and Late Confirmation. Experts EN interviewed, as well as various health organizations, including the WHO and the Food and Drug Administration, agree that more information is needed before dietary advice can be issued. Still, they are clearly concerned. Scientists at the WHO and the FDA are now analyzing the data. WHO experts will meet at the end of June to assess how much risk acrylamide poses to humans, while the European Commission will do the same in early July. The FDA has yet to issue an official statement.
At press time, the British Food Standard Agency has just completed its own limited testing, which confirms the Swedish results, finding acrylamide in similar baked and fried high-carb foods.
EN‘s Bottom Line. Should you worry? Not yet. Foods are filled with all sorts of toxins and risks. The magnitude of this particular risk needs to be put into perspective first. However, if the initial findings hold up to scrutiny, it will surely finger fried foods as harmful?not that we don’t know we should limit them anyway. In the meantime, the message rings loud and clear that a diet of whole, unprocessed foods?rich in fruits and vegetables?is the most healthful. We doubt that will change. We?ll keep you posted.
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