ACRYLAMIDE IN FOOD: What is it? How can we reduce it?

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Acrylamide is a chemical compound that typically forms in starchy foods such as potatoes, cereals and baked goods (pizza, toast, biscuits) when cooked at high temperatures, above 120 ° C (frying, cooking in oven and grilled) and also during industrial processes such as roasting cereals and coffee at temperatures of over 120 ° C and with low humidity.

How is it formed?

The chemical reaction that determines the formation of acrylamide is called the Maillard reaction, that is the reaction that gives the darkest color to the bread crust for example: when simple sugars and amino acids, naturally present in starchy foods, are heated to high temperatures they combine and determine the formation of new substances that give the aroma and the typical scent of toasted. In particular, however, in the presence of the amino acid asparagine this reaction leads to the formation of acrylamide. This substance can also be generated by various non-food industrial uses and is present in tobacco smoke.

How much do we ingest?

In 2016, EFSA tried to estimate how much food acrylamide one is exposed to by food type:

  • For adults, the main responsible for the dietary intake of this substance are fried potato products (up to 49 % of the total), followed by coffee (34 %) and soft bread (23 %).
  • For children and adolescents, the main source of acrylamide is represented, also in this case, by products based on fried potatoes (up to 51 %), followed by sweets and pastries (15 %), soft bread, biscuits and cereals from Breakfast; in adolescents, chips and snacks are also noted (11 % and processed cereal-based foods (up to 14 %).

What are its effects?

From the first study published in 2002 we tried to understand how much the production of acrylamide through cooking and food processing, and subsequent consumption, could influence health and cancer risk in particular.

Studies in humans to date have provided limited and conflicting evidence of an increased risk of developing cancer. However, studies in laboratory animals have shown that exposure to very high doses of acrylamide through the diet increases the likelihood of developing gene mutations and tumors in various organs.

Based on these studies, EFSA's experts reiterated the assessments that the presence of acrylamide in food may increase the risk of cancer for consumers in all age groups and while this applies to ALL consumers, it is childhood is the most exposed age group, in relation to reduced body weight compared to adults.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified acrylamide among the "probable human carcinogens", while EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency), while declaring that the risk is very low, calls for limiting its consumption.

How to reduce its intake?

To date we know that the quantities of dietary acrylamide that should be consumed for the risk to become worrying are probably incompatible with a varied and balanced diet. Although it is impossible to totally eliminate starchy products, it is nevertheless advisable to avoid exposing yourself unnecessarily, since there is no threshold dose below which no risk is recognized.

The choice of food, its storage, processing and cooking method can greatly influence the formation of acrylamide in food and consequently the exposure of people.

Here are some simple suggestions to limit their formation in food:

  • Avoid burnt foods;
  • Vary the cooking methods by preferring boiling and steaming;
  • Choose potato varieties grown in soils that are poor in sulfur so that they accumulate a lower content of asparagine;
  • Prefer new potatoes and DO NOT store them in the refrigerator to avoid an increase in sugar content due to starch depolymerization;
  • Avoid excessive toasting of bread, especially if wholemeal or rye;
  • Eat well leavened bread

is.. "Don't burn it, lightly brown it!"

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