Acrylamide – is it really a risk?

profile-keirAcrylamide is a potentially cancer causing compound produced when starches are browned during cooking. As reported in our Jan 2017 News Round Up concern about dietary acrylamide has led the Food Standards Agency to recommend the public ‘go for gold’ – avoiding medium and heavily browned toast, potatoes and pastries. But is this advice overblown?

‘Risk’ is always a slippery subject and human evolution does not appear to have equipped us to deal with it intuitively. The very word ‘risk’ is enough for many of us worry, or exclude a food ‘just to be on the safe side’. Hopefully, the following will put to bed any such concerns about the risk from acrylamide.

This graphic shows the commonest sources of acrylamide exposure:

acrylamide-intake

One of the highest sources is coffee. Coffee consumprion, however, is associated with reduced all-cause mortality. The benefits across a huge range of measures from heart disease to dementia, increases with consumption, up to six cups per day, and has been shown to be independent of caffein. [See our post on coffee here]

If the risk from acrylamide was significant you would expect to see the reverse, with more coffee consumption linked to more cancer. As the data does not show this then the risk from acrylamide must be very small. Small enough to be countered by the beneficial phytonutrients in a cup of coffee.

Ah! If only all risks in life were so easily neutralised!

Looking again at the table above, apart from the coffee there are plenty of reasons to avoid the junk on that list: oxidised oils, gluten, n6 PUFAs… Acrylamide would be a long way down my list of concerns.

3 thoughts on “Acrylamide – is it really a risk?

  1. It’s so easy to react to these research papers- like every thing we are so different from one person to the next – what kills one cures another. One certainty is that we are all going to die of something. Longevity is no guarantee of quality of life. My grandmother smoked until she died at 96!

    • Yes. Here at the clinic diets have to be individualised as they have to treat very specific conditions: a ketogenic diet is essential for epilepsy, whereas getting off grains is essential for most of the autoimmune patients. For a general ‘healthy diet’ though you have to sort through the statistics to see what is actually worth while, then go for the low hanging fruits. From my reading that means (1) eat real foods (not processed and refined) (2) include fish at least twice per week (3) use good quality oils, low omega 6 (EV olive, coconut, butter) (4) plenty of veg, (5) replace grains with nuts / nut flours. Some version of a lowish-carb Mediterranean diet, including dairy where tolerated, seems to fit the bill, and is doable for most people.

      • I couldn’t agree more – we have made changes to what you outlined above.
        The only element missing is that we need to be in touch with what we are eating.
        ‘our eating habbits, not just what we eat, but how we eat it, the way we eat it, conspire to turn one of the most sensuous and pleasurable experiences into a neurotic, disembodied fuelling’ Roger Houseden Soul and sensuality.

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