You’re probably thinking to yourself it must be because of all the excess fat. Yes, that part of fried food is unhealthy for you as well (we’ll touch on this in another post) but that is not the subject of this article. The subject of this article is acrylamide. Acrylamide is a chemical compound that is used in a variety ways within the plastic and chemical industry. Although it is useful it does have at least one drawback. It is not healthy at all. In fact, according to the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, acrylamide is categorized as “extremely dangerous.” Chemicals categorized in this group require the most immediate attention because of their toxicity. Animal models have shown that acrylamide has initiated tumors in lungs, testes, adrenal and thyroid glands. Also at high enough doses it can cause DNA damage, neurological damage and reduced fertility. There is still debate over acrylamide having similar effects of humans. Some studies have shown that it facilitates certain cancers like kidney, endometrial and ovarian in non smokers only (FYI acrylamides are present in cigarettes)
Where does acrylamide come from? Acrylamide is a by product of a variety of high heat cooking such as roasting, frying, deep fat frying and baking. It is derived from the so called “Maillard reaction.” The Maillard reaction is responsible for the brown color that you typically see on breads, rolls, pan fried meats, fries, seared and or barbecue meats, pretzel, bagels, biscuits, cereal, donuts and even coffee and chips.
As side note, Frito Lay and Proctor & Gamble payed millions of dollars lawsuits to the state of California because of the levels of acrylamide in their chips in reference to Proposition 65 (requires a disclaimer on all food products containing unsafe levels of carcinogens or toxins). It occurs when simple sugars like fructose or glucose are present in the food and react with amino acids (typically from 280 to 330 degrees F) to form new chemicals. Among these chemicals is Acrylamide.
Fortunately acrylamide is water soluble the body is able to filter out about half within in a few hours. But, why put our bodies through the stress. Avoid eating high heated foods in general. Try opting for boiled foods or raw foods. Like instead of french fries or sweet potato fries opt for a baked potato or sweet potato.
If you really have the hankering for good food you can minimize your acrylamide consumption by presoaking your food in 0.2% citric acid solution of water. This was shown to reduce the acrylamide generation in french fries to around to a quarter. The effect was caused by lowering the pH of the food solution. So in theory, maybe lemon juice would result in similar effect.