With last week’s release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there was an increase in attention on healthy eating.  The same may be true about the upcoming release of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) report on acrylamide and health.  The only difference is that most people don’t know much about acrylamide because we didn’t learn about it with a colorful pyramid in elementary school.  Before you start hearing about something you may not be familiar with, read on to get the basics.

What is acrylamide, anyway?

Acrylamide is not something that is added to foods during processing.  It forms naturally when foods are baked, fried, toasted or roasted, and it forms whether that happens at a factory, a restaurant, or even your own home.  You may notice that when you heat foods they turn a golden brown color: acrylamide is formed during that browning reaction.  It forms in plant-based foods, particularly starches, and can be found in toast, cooked potatoes, and even coffee!

What’s the Big Deal?

While acrylamide has likely been in food since we began cooking, it wasn’t discovered there until the year 2002.  Like many things, this “unknown” interested and prompted people, especially scientists, to find out more about it. The issue was elevated slightly more when people confused the difference between industrial acrylamide (which is used in pulp and paper processing industries and as a sealant in grout and tunnel work) and the naturally occurring, dietary acrylamide that forms when you make toast.  These two types of acrylamide are very different and bear no comparison.

In the wake of its discovery, research has been done and continues to emerge on the subject of dietary acrylamide.  This is why some people are interested in the upcoming NTP report.  The report pulls together a lot of the research on dietary acrylamide and any potential impact on health, and it is used to inform scientists and public health professionals.

Do I need to worry about it?

Instead of worrying about acrylamide, it’s more important to focus on eating a healthful diet that includes lots of different types of foods. Try to follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; opt for lean protein; drink low-fat or fat-free dairy products; and reduce those foods high in saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugar.

If you are still a little worried or are just curious about how to reduce acrylamide in your diet, here are a few ideas:

·         The Golden Rule: Don’t cook your foods until they are dark brown;

·         Skins are In: Potatoes that have their skins on when they are cooked in the microwave or boiled tend to have lower levels of acrylamide;

·         The Heat is On: Heat foods at the proper temperature and don’t overcook them.

What will the report say? What does this mean? Stay tuned.  In the meantime, eat a healthful, varied diet and enjoy what you eat!


This article, by Katie Burns, was first published Feb. 8, 2011 on the Food Insight Blog and is reprinted with permission from the International Food Information Council Foundation.