Compound Found in French Fries and Coffee May Increase Risk of Cancer

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As if you need another reason to rethink those French fries, now the European Union's risk assessment body for food safety says they may increase your risk for cancer.

From now until September 15, the European Foods Safety Authority (EFSA) is asking for public feedback on its statement about acrylamide in food. This compound naturally forms in starchy food products during everyday high-temperature cooking (higher than 150 degrees Celcius), including frying, baking, and roasting. Coffee, French fries, roasted potatoes, crackers and crisp breads, soft bread, and even certain baby foods are sources of acrylamide.

Diane Benford, Ph.D., who sits on EFSA's expert panel, explained in a press release the key aspects of the draft statement: “Acrylamide consumed orally is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs, and extensively metabolized. Glycidamide, one of the main metabolites from this process, is the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumors seen in animal studies.”

Here in U.S, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates acrylamide in our drinking water, but there are currently no guidelines governing the presence of acrylamide in food. However, you can definitely decrease your exposure to acrylamide by decreasing cooking time, in particular blanching potatoes before frying, boiling, or microwaving. And as always, following a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, nuts, dairy, and the like is recommended.

Also, before panic sets in, I think more long-term clinical studies on humans need to be conducted. As Benford so eloquently pointed out “so far, human studies on occupational and dietary exposure to acrylamide have provided limited and inconsistent evidence of increased risk of developing cancer.” That works for me.

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