Who doesn’t love to eat potato chips or roasted potatoes? This lovely crispy sound and beautiful light brown coarst are mouthwatering. However, exactly the most we love about our favorite potato products are the threat for our health on the long term because of the high levels of acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms from sugars and amino acid, asparagine, in plant-based foods – including potato and grain-based foods under high-temperature. In other words, carbohydrate-rich foods that are roasted, fried, or baked, have high levels of acrylamide.
Why do you need to care about acrylamide in your food?
Acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer in people of all ages, including children. Although human studies are limited, studies on laboratory animals have shown that exposure to acrylamide through the diet increased chance of developing gene mutations and tumours in various organs. Moreover, there are possible harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development, and on male reproduction.
What are the safe amounts of acrylamide in food?
Because acrylamide in food is a food safety issue, in 2016, the FDA developed a Guidance for Industry to reduce acrylamide in the food supply. The European food authorities followed their American colleagues and in 2017 developed the legal regulation, where the tolerable intake of acrylamide was set out at 750 μg/kg. (To give you an example, pan-frying of boiled potato cubes result in 530-1100 μg/kg levels of acrylamide.)
However, the most recent studies showed that this regulation step was not enough. The samples of tested potato products in 2020-2021 turned to exceed the allowed amounts of acrylamide.
What can you do to decrease the acrylamide in your food?
Since acrylamide levels are directly related to the browning of foods, a recommendation is to lightly brown your food, not burn it. But there is much more you can do to make your potato crisps healthier.
Long-term storage outside a refrigerator at appr 20°C decreases naturally sugar (starch) content in potatoes. On the other hand, the storage of potatoes at 2°C results in increased free sugar content that converts to higher acrylamide levels during cooking.
Soaking or blanching of potato slices in acidic solutions before frying decreases the pH of potato juice and increases the extraction of amino acids and sugars. Potato crisps after such pre-treatment have lower levels of acrylamide. The most effective way to decrease the acrylamide content (90%) in crisps is to soak the potato slices in vinegar for 60 min at 20°C.
Decreasing the heat by lowering cooking temperature. To give you an example, you’ll decrease acrylamide content by 70% if you fry your potato slices at 185°C (or 365F) and by 80% if you do it at 160°C(320F).
Another effective way to decrease the formation of acrylamide is to fry shortly your potatoes and after that to dry them in a hot air oven (the so called post-drying).
What also can help is to keep your diet and your cooking techniques varied. By balancing your fryed potatoes with some steamed fish and sauteed vegetables can help reduce the acrylamide intake.
What other foods are high in acrylamide?
The major other food sources of acrylamide besides fried potato products are coffee/coffee substitutes (derived from grains and chicory root) and cacao; crackers, bread; biscuits; breakfast cereals; canned black olives; and even prune juice.
Is food the only source of acrylamide?
The short answer is no. So far we don’t have a complete picture of all sources of acrylamide. What we do know for sure is that people are exposed to much more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food. So, (passive) smokers have 3 to 5 times higher levels of acrylamide exposure than do non-smokers.
Exposure from other sources, such as drinking water from wells near plastic or dye plants or working in the production or use of acrylamide and acrylamide containing products seem to be significantly less than that from food or smoking.