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Healthy in the kitchen, the acrylamide

January 05, 2020
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Healthy in the kitchen, the acrylamide

Acrylamide is a potentially carcinogenic substance that develops when foods rich in starches are subjected to cooking at high temperatures, let's try to understand how it is possible to reduce the amount of produced acrylamide

Acrylamide is a toxic substance found in foods rich in carbohydrates and subjected to frying, roasting and baking and classified by the IARC as a probable carcinogen for humans. However, even nowadays, there is no certainty about its effects on health. In fact, acrylamide is known to be neurotoxic and harmful to the liver, lungs and kidneys, however, at the doses taken with food there is no evidence that it can cause tumors. In any case, the studies have all focused on the short-term effects and there is no research about the long-term consequences of a continuous intake of small quantities of acrylamide, as happens with the diet (Exon et al, J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev ., 2016). That's why it is good to try, when possible, to reduce the amount of ingested acrylamide. It will never be possible to completely eliminate acrylamide, but as we will see below, precautions can be taken to lower the amount in food. So let's try to understand how acrylamide is formed and what we can do to reduce the presence of this substance.

Acrylamide, why it is found in foods

Acrylamide is formed through high temperature cooking of starches, such as when we fry chips or bake bread and crackers. Due to the processes to which they are subjected, we also find acrylamide in coffee, cocoa and breakfast cereals. Acrylamide begins to form at 120 °C and reaches its maximum peak around 180 °C (Mucci et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2019). Acrylamide, on the other hand, does not form after boiling food (Kumar et al, Front Nutr, 2018). It is estimated that a third of the calories consumed by American and European citizens contain acrylamide. That's why acrylamide is a topic of interest. As mentioned, it is impossible to completely eliminate this substance. However, it is possible, with some precautions, to reduce it.

Acrylamide, some tips

When frying carbohydrate-rich foods, the amount of acrylamide increases with increasing temperature, quadrupling when it reaches the temperature of 190 °C compared to the quantity that is formed at 170 °C.

Therefore, having a cooking thermometer could be a good idea in order to reach a temperature between 160 °C and 170 °C, below this threshold the food becomes soaked with oil and does not complete cooking while above it significantly increases the quantity of acrylamide (Palazoglu et al, J Food Sci, 2010). Acrylamide also increases with increasing frying time, but also the type of oil used for frying can determine a greater or lesser presence of acrylamide. Olive oil, in fact, thanks to the phenols it contains, including substances called ortho-diphenols, inhibits the formation of acrylamide (Napolitano et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2008).

As for baking, the temperature is decisive in the amount of acrylamide found in food but the result is slightly different from what one might expect. In fact, it has been observed that baking at 170 °C produces more acrylamide than when cooking food at 180 °C. Not only that, cooking in the oven at 170 °C produces higher quantities of this substance than frying at the same temperature. By comparing cooking methods and temperatures, the least amount of acrylamide is obtained by baking in the oven at 180 °C (Palazoglu et al, J Food Sci, 2010).

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