Acrylamide: The Silent Killer


Dr. Jimmy Steger

What is acrylamide? – This is a chemical that’s found most prevalently in potato chips, French fries, crackers, coffee and other carbohydrate-laden snacks.  Many animal studies have shown that when acrylamide is eaten in excess – more than 40 micrograms, according to most estimates – it contributes to various forms of cancer. 

Now comes word that there’s something else one needs to concern themselves with when it comes to acrylamide consumption: heart disease.

The more I write, the more clear things become with regards to why heart disease is the number one killer in America today.  Much of it has to do with lack of exercise and improper diet, but it also has to do with the fact heart disease is linked to so many toxic chemicals like acrylamide. 

It’s estimated that acrylamide is found in as much as 40 percent of the average American’s caloric intake.  And because acrylamide is not an additive but rather a by-produce of the cooking process, it’s not something that can easily be easily eliminated from the diet.  It can, however, be reduced.

Before I get into how it can be reduced – and I’m guessing you already know what I’m going to suggest – let me relate the latest news on how acrylamide is linked to heart disease.

Polish researchers discovered the link after a group of participants for their study consumed an inordinate amount of acrylamide in the average day – about 160 milligrams.  Most of the acrylamide consumed came from chief offenders like the aforementioned potato chip and French fry. 

After four weeks of observing the participants’ acrylamide-crammed diet, the researchers found that their bodies were adversely affected.  For instance, antioxidants they consumed from other foods no longer pushed the acrylamide out of their bodies (strike one!), inflammation increased (strike two!) and the chemical make-up of their LDL levels changed (even though LDL is the “bad” kind of cholesterol, these changes were not of the “good” kind – strike three!).

These are three indicators of how at risk someone is for heart disease (you’re out!).

The full findings are published in this month’s edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

So what’s the best way to eliminate acrylamide from one’s diet? Eliminate French fries and potato chips number one, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to eliminate it entirely – particularly when it’s found in almost half of all calories consumed!  But by eating fewer cooked foods, it can be reduced rather significantly. 

If you’re already a healthy eater, reducing the number of cooked foods shouldn’t be too much of a change.  For example, one of the foods acrylamide is found in is in almonds.  Almonds are traditionally roasted, toasted or salted.  When they’re raw, they have far lesser amounts of acrylamide, one of the reasons why raw almonds are preferable to roasted. 

Another way to reduce acrylamide consumption is by having more vegetables served raw rather than cooked.  Again, acrylamide is produced through the cooking process when a food’s sugars and asparagines combine (and yes, the amino acid asparagine is found in large doses in asparagus, from which the name derives).  So the only way to reduce its prevalence is by reducing cooking. 

Acrylamide is one of those things that is almost impossible to avoid.  Its effects can be minimized, though, with preparation.  It’s sort of like to trying to stay dry when walking in the pouring rain:  You’re going to get wet, but how wet you get largely depends on your preparation (e.g. umbrella, rain jacket, galoshes, walking quickly as opposed to slowly).  With acrylamide, you’re going to consume it, but how much you consume of it depends on your diet (e.g. avoiding processed foods and eating as many raw vegetables, fruits, whole grains as possible).

Until next time, stay healthy!

Dr. Jimmy Steger