Acrylamide toxicity

Characteristics of acrylamide

What is acrylamide?

acrylamide chips
French fries are foods that we should not eat, at least not regularly.

Acrylamide is a substance that forms when foods rich in carbohydrates are fried, toasted  or roasted.

The chemical reaction that produces the characteristic golden color of food is called the Maillard reaction. It involves mainly carbohydrates, amino acids (in particular asparagine) and high temperatures (higher than 120ºC).

Acrylamide structure

Chemically, acrylamide is a molecule called 2-propenamide (CH2CHCONH2) which is soluble in water.

Foods with acrylamide

It is easy to find this substance in chips , cookies, bread and breakfast cereals.

  • Acrylamide can not be formed at low temperatures, therefore it is not present in boiled, steamed or papillote foods.

It is one of the carcinogenic components of tobacco smoke. In fact, smoking is one of the main sources of exposure to acrylamide, as well as to other toxic substances such as nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, etc.

Health risks of acrylamide

Summary of acrylamide
Main properties of acrylamide.

In both animals and humans, acrylamide is converted to glycylamide, a substance that damages the DNA of cells and can induce tumors. Studies in animals have shown that prolonged administration of acrylamide can cause cancer and decrease male fertility.

What other health problems can acrylamide have?

Most studies have been done on animals, and there is not enough evidence that acrylamide causes cancer in people.

Other information based on workers exposed to acrylamide suggests that it causes lesions in the nervous system, usually peripheral neuropathy.

Toxicity of acrylamide

Estimates of the total intake of acrylamide through the diet are about 100 micrograms per day, which is approximately 1.7 micrograms per kg. of body weight / day, more than a thousand times less than the doses that caused effects on the nervous system or reproductive in scientific studies.

Acrylamide and cancer

Acrylamide has been classified as “probable carcinogen to humans” by IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer).

Likewise, through the official regulatory bodies, manufacturers of products susceptible to containing acrylamide are informed about good technological practices to reduce their content. This is what is known as ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable. Food industry operators are obliged to take the necessary measures to minimize the presence of contaminants, taking into account the needs of your product (which retains good taste and characteristics).

Foods containing acrylamide

It is found in foods rich in carbohydrates, which are mainly cereals and potatoes, which have been cooked at very high temperatures, such as fried, toasted or roasted.

  • The typical golden color of the food may indicate the presence of this substance, because it means that the Maillard reaction, acrylamide precursor, has been produced.

What are the foods with the most acrylamide?

The main sources of acrylamide are:

  • Smoke of the tobacco
  • Potato chips, bag or homemade.
  • Barbecue potatoes or grilled ones
  • Sweet potato or fried or grilled sweet potato
  • Battered and fried
  • Biscuits or bread toasts
  • Bread, crackers  and other bakery products
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Coffee substitutes made with toasted cereals
  • Roasted nuts and fried nuts
  • Coffee

Table of contents in acrylamide of food

FoodAmount of acrylamide
(micrograms per kilo)
Substitutes of coffee based on cereals2,000
Potatoes chips600 – 1,000
Soluble coffee900
Bread toast, crusty bread, cookies and waffles500
Toasted coffee450
Breakfast cereals (except for porridge)400
Tin loaf80

Source: “Recommendation of the Commission of November 8, 2013 regarding the investigation of acrylamide levels in food”. Official Journal of the European Union (2013/647 / EU).

Dietary recommendations

  • It is recommended that fresh fruits and vegetables abound in the diet, due to their antioxidant contribution and their anti-cancer role.
  • The consumption of raw foods (salads, fruit salads, fruit, nuts, etc.) and cooking at low temperatures should be encouraged: boiled, steamed, papillote, etc.
  • Do not eat fried foods, grilled or roasted at high temperature too often. When these foods are consumed, accompany them with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene.
  • Extra virgin olive oil contains more vitamin E (antioxidants) than refined oils.
  • A healthy diet is the best guarantee of health.

punto rojoMore information on toxic products in food

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

15 July, 2021

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