Whole Wheat Quick Bread With Banana and Slivered Almonds
Enjoy the benefits of whole grain with this easy-to-make quick bread! Homemade Banana-Nut Whole Wheat Bread takes about an hour from start to finish.

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While some experts say this natural chemical is reason to say "hold the fries," other experts say, "not so fast!"   Photo source: Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Are Acrylamides Dangerous?

By Mary Curtis

Are acrylamides the latest in a string of dangers we should worry about in our food?

GMA's and trans fats are generally recognized by most of us as substances of which we should exercise some degree of caution. But according to some researchers, although not all, acrylamides should also be on this list of things to avoid in food we put into our mouths.

What is Acrylamide?

Acyrylamide is a chemical that forms naturally in some plant-based foods when cooked at high temperatures (above 250° F/ 121° C). Baking, frying, roasting, and toasting foods at high temperatures, especially for long periods of time, appear to be the culprit actions which cause the formation of this chemical mostly in grains or vegetables. Boiling and steaming food, on the other hand, does not provoke formation of acrylamides.

The formation of acrylamides comes about when an enzyme found naturally in many grains and vegetables (asparagine) reacts at high temperatures with sugars that are also natural in these foods. Although the formation of acrylamides in foods has probably been going on since humankind first discovered fire and began cooking, scientists were not aware of their presence until 2002. Scientists who are researching acrylamides are mainly concerned with only the high levels which form in grains and vegetables, although they believe formation can also occur at high prolonged temperatures in meats, dairy, and fish.

Why Should We Be Concerned?

Animals who ate food with high levels of acrylamides developed cancer. Some researchers say that these study results translate directly to human beings. They claim measures must to be taken to reduce acylamide formation in commerical food processing, and also in restaurant cooking and baking. This group additionally wants to educate people who cook at home so that they can better protect themselves from what they consider to be toxic levels of acylamide formation. Eliminating acrylamides completely would not be realistic, this group of scientists concedes. But they insist on either legislation and /or voluntary measures by the food industry to begin to reduce acrylamide levels.

Other scientists say that studies performed using mice do not prove what effect, if any, this chemical has on humans. Because acrylamides have been in our foods for probably thousands of years, and their discovery was only been a little over a decade ago, this group does not believe the evidence is there to panic. Nevertheless, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States and the European Union have issued guidelines both for industry and consumers at home.

At this point, there is no agreement among experts how, or even if, acrylamides affect humans. Should you be concerned?

The answer right now is unclear as to what real danger, if any, acrylamides pose to human health. The best answer now is to decide for yourself how important a potential risk is to you. Below are guidelines to help you reduce the amount of acrylamides in your diet:

Things You Can Do to Reduce Acrylamides at Home
  1. Boil potatoes rather than baking them. After putting your washed potatoes into a saucepan or Dutch oven, cover them with enough water to cover them. Add a little sea salt to the water. Cover with a lid and simmer for about 45 minutes until tender enough to pierce with the fork. You can also microwave potatoes rather than baking; researchers find that microwaving does not increase acrylamides.
  2. Boil rice and other grains in water lighted seasoned with sea salt. If you are making chicken and rice, for instance, rather than putting everything together into the oven at high heat, do this instead:
    • Pre-cook the rice by boiling it on the stove top. Meanwhile, roast the chicken as you would normally. Then combine them and, if you prefer, put them together in a low 200° F/93° C oven. One advantage of doing it this way is that you will wind up with crispier chicken.
  3. Toast bread only until it is light brown. The darker the toast, researchers found, the higher the levels of acrylamides.
  4. The same applies for French fries at home: bake until only yellow.
  5. Buy only yeast bread. Better yet, bake your own yeast bread. Researchers found that a long yeast fermentation time reduces acrylmide levels. If you buy commercially baked bread, make sure that the commercial bakery lets it rise the old fashioned way by letting the yeast do its thing. If they have used chemicals to speed up the rising process, then the bread, since it was baked at high temperature, will have a high acrylamides level.
  6. Store potatoes in a dark, cool place rather than in a refrigerator.

At present, the research continues. The food industry recently discovered that a natural enzyme (asparaginase which is naturally occurring in many vegetables) helps regulate and counteract the chemical reaction that produces acrylamide. Adding this natural enzyme to foods is helping to reduce acrylamides. Additionally, food processors are also cutting back on added sugars in their products' recipes; they feel that this will also help reduce the formation of acrylamides.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to your own take on this issue. How important is this issue to you, at this point, while the experts are still officially undecided. If you have cancer in your family history, then it probably should be a concern. Taking some of these steps, otherwise, might be a good idea anyway to help keep your waistline trim.

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