Acrylamide, how to limit the carcinogen we take every day without knowing it

Acrylamide, how to limit the carcinogen we take every day without knowing it

Acrylamide, present in many of the foods we eat every day, represents a risk that should not be underestimated for our health: what this substance is, where it is found and how to avoid it

Don't store avocado like this: it's dangerous

L'acrylamide is a chemical substance found mainly in the parts "burned”Of many common starchy foods: French fries, cereals, bread, biscuits, rusks, crackers, packaged snacks and coffee contain high levels of them. Although it is found mainly in processed food products, the origin of this "poison" is nevertheless natural.

The chemical process underlying it is called "Maillard reaction”And affects the foods during the phase cooking (especially at high temperatures such as frying, baking and baking grid) or during industrial transformation processes above 120 ° C. There is also a crafts synthetic which is used in the manufacture of plastics, is present in tobacco, and is used for the treatment of drinking water.

Although EU and US researchers are still trying to accurately quantify the toxicity ranges of this substance in relation to the health risks from exposure, acrylamide has been judged to be a substance genotossica "extremely dangerous"By the joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC).


Acrylamide, a chance discovery

In October 1997, following an accident during the construction of the railway tunnel of Hallandsåsen in Sweden, large quantities of acrylamide were released into the surrounding environment. The issue wasn't just environmental: Margareta Törnqvist, Ph.D. of the Department of Environmental Chemistry at Stockholm University, studied the exposure of tunnel workers using mass spectrometry to measure hemoglobin-bound acrylamide in the blood. . During the comparison between workers and the control group (subjects without occupational exposure) she discovered, however, inexplicable relatively high concentrations of acrylamide in both groups. The ubiquity of the results led to the hypothesis that this substance could also be found in common contexts, such as diet.

A few years and much research away, the National Food Administration confirmed the hypothesis: french fries, cookies and crackers they contained the greatest toxic quantities, while bread, breakfast cereals and corn chips recorded slightly lower values; boiled foods and animal products (even if fried) had relatively negligible levels. Being the products common, the discovery quickly reached media attention, even anticipating the scientific one and triggering an artificial health emergency among the population even before there was the basis for scientific evidence.

Over the next decade, EFSA invited Member States to monitor acrylamide levels, which revealed no major changes for most of the food categories assessed.

Geographical and generational factors of acrylamide

Although there are still no strict international laws to regulate exposure to food acrylamide, the health problem exists, and the administrations that are moving cannot overlook two important factors: geography and age. Firstly, in each country there is a different average per capita intake, due to the different culinary traditions.

In Sweden, for example, where this substance was discovered, most potatoes are eaten boiled or baked; different cooking characterizes overseas fast-food restaurants. Secondly, it should be remembered that nutrition is also, and above all, a generational factor. Although acrylamide is present in foods consumed by all age groups and body weights, the analysis of diets shows that children e teens are the more Consumers of packaged starchy products (snacks, cereals, fried foods ...); the new generations not only take more "poison", but the cell division typical of their growth phase worsens the situation.

Laws and obstacles related to acrylamide

In June 2015, EFSA published "The risk assessment explained by EFSA: acrylamide in food" with the aim of creating a network between international decision-making bodies to reduce consumer exposure to food acrylamide, proposing controls on the industrial production of food or studying new ways of consumption. THE levels of acrylamide they may indeed be reduced using different ingredients and additives, or by changing the preservation methods and the temperature at which the food is cooked. Although easy to understand, all these measures have found a practical obstacle as they impact with the policies of the food industry, the production costs and the flavors of the products.

Similarly, the drafting of a community regulation it was scheduled for the end of 2016 from the meeting "Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food, and Feed". The purpose was to consolidate existing guidelines plus robust public health protections and create an international regulatory body. However, the participation of several stakeholders made negotiations difficult, and the terminology used (“at least below the indicative value”) was one of the biggest quibbles.

Subsequently, with Regulation no. 2158 of 20 November 2017, the European legislator has established the reference levels for the presence of this substance in foods such as fried potatoes, crackers, breakfast cereals and baby products.

How to reduce exposure to acrylamide

In the meantime, what behaviors can the consumer assume? And what social interventions can involve him? First of all, the different ways of storing and cooking food can affect the formation of this "toxin": boiling foods or cooking them at temperatures below 120 ° C is the healthiest solution.

In addition, the presence of a clear and simple warning about the food packaging it could help the population to recognize the existence of this substance in particular food categories. The purpose of aunderstandable labeling it is not that of a priori boycotting the intake of common starchy foods by giving rise to social alarmism or health emergencies prematurely, but that of creating (and in this case, also growing) an aware consumer.

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