My dad loves to have a toasted bagel for breakfast. For as long as I can remember, he's always toasted it to the point where it's slightly blackened. Several of us in the family have told him that blackened baked goods aren't good for his health and can potentially cause cancer.
This is due to a compound called acrylamide, a concerning carcinogen that caused the UK Food Standards industry to publish guidelines on how to toast bread and fry potatoes to avoid the compound.
Acrylamide has definitely been a compound of concern around the world, and is a well-known carcinogen. What exactly is this compound, though, and why is it present in our food? Here are some interesting facts on acrylamide to familiarize you with this cancer-causing compound:
Acrylamide isn't added into foods, but can be produced by cooking foods.
Acrylamide is formed when sugars naturally found in food reacts with asparagine, a common amino acid that is also found in our foods. Some specific foods, such as potatoes, grain products, and coffee beans, tend to be higher in asparagine content. These foods tend to produce higher amounts of acrylamide as a result when cooked. Higher temperatures (above 250 degrees Fahrenheit) and longer time periods of cooking will affect the level of acrylamide present, so toasting your bread for a shorter period of time or lower temperature will decrease acrylamide production.
Gentle cooking methods like boiling will help prevent acrylamide production.
Microwaving and steaming are also gentle cooking methods that won't lead to the production of acrylamide. Boiling potatoes and steaming desserts are great ways to get your starch without the acrylamide that follows. Considering the British have both of these (mashed potatoes and puddings), they know what they're doing when it comes to lowering cancer risk.
Starchy foods are more likely to form acrylamide, but meats can as well.
High temperatures, long cooking times, and free asparagine are the key things you need to produce acrylamide. Grilled and smoked meats will definitely be higher in acrylamide as a result — especially when barbecue sauces and marinades are brushed on to add the sugars needed to produce more acrylamide.
The FDA recommends a healthy diet to combat acrylamide intake.
Fried, roasted, and baked foods definitely have acrylamide and can cause cancer, but a healthy diet contains many cancer-fighting compounds that can combat the effects of acrylamide. Following the dietary health guidelines from the FDA is helpful in combating cancer. Of course, cancer can come from a one-time tiny dose or long periods of consumption of acrylamide, depending on the person. But, it's always good to have a healthy diet to combat it regardless.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on the mysteries of acrylamide and why its such a taboo compound. And maybe, after my dad reads this, he'll burn his bagels a little bit less in the morning.