Smoke Signal: Fried Chips/Chicken Pose a Cancer Risk – As Smoking Does


Photo: New Food Magazine

A not-quite-new warning has been published about the presence of acrylamide – a carcinogenic chemical that is industrially produced for use in products such as plastics, water treatment products, and cosmetics – in starchy foods that are cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide also is found in cigarette smoke, according to the U.S. F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration).

Just published in U.K.-based New Food magazine, this warning is from the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) committee on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM), whose scientific opinion on the issue was first reported in 2014 then confirmed last year. The ‘new’ report in New Food is a hardly-timely update reflecting the latter finding.

Acrylamide, New Food says, “is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during every-day high-temperature cooking. The main chemical process that causes this is known as the Maillard Reaction; it is the same reaction that ‘browns’ food and affects its taste. Acrylamide forms from sugars and amino acids (mainly one called asparagine) that are naturally present in many foods.”

Given that, as New Food notes, “Acrylamide and its metabolite, glycidamide, damage DNA and are carcinogenic,” your answer to ‘do you want fries with that?’ should be “NO!”

The magazine continues:

Evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer. Following ingestion, acrylamide is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolized. Glycidamide is one of the main metabolites resulting from this process and the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumors seen in animal studies.

Besides cancer, the Panel also considered possible harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development and male reproduction. These effects were not considered to be a concern, based on current levels of dietary exposure.

Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive.

The F.D.A. says, in a current web site posting, “In laboratory studies, acrylamide caused cancer in animals, but at acrylamide levels much higher than those seen in foods.” While somewhat encouraging – taking away the ‘let’s not eat fries anymore’ reaction – that kinda-sorta raises another question, of what we are consuming, thanks to modern food processing procedures, that could be  – and more than likely is – killing us.

This link gives you access to pretty much what the F.D.A. knows, or is saying, about acrylamide.

From the sounds of it, this is not something you have to be terribly concerned about – but it is something you should be aware of. That, and the fact that, for an assortment of other reasons, too much fried food isn’t something you should be consuming – on more than an occasional basis, at best.

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