By Jessica Sanders

Cooking vegetables at home is healthy, right? Well, technically, when vegetables and starchy or plant based foods are cooked above 250 degrees F, the answer is no. At this temperature, a carcinogenic toxin called acrylamide is formed.

Experts at explain, “During cooking, sugars and amino acids, called asparagines, react to form this toxin. Starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potato chips and French fries contain the highest levels of acrylamide, but truthfully any food cooked at temperatures higher than 250 F/120 C pose a possible risk.”

vegetables causing cancerAs such, acrylamide is considered a heat-generated food toxin, meaning it’s not put in the food you’re eating, but forms as food is heated for long periods of time. Foods rich in carbohydrates have been found to exhibit the highest levels of this acrylamide, such as potato chips and fries. Still, any fried or burned vegetables will produce this chemical reaction.

So, does this mean you should stop cooking all your vegetables? Not necessarily. Should you stop eating potato chips? Probably.

The Acrylamide Story

Commonly found in food, acrylamide has been linked to increased risk of:

  • Cancer
  • Fertility-related issues
  • Neurological disorders

Between the early 90s and 2009, dozens of studies were released denouncing the cancer related connections. However, studies were based on food frequency questionnaires, which many health professionals believe are not accurate.

In 2010, the European Chemical Agency deemed this a substance of very high concern (SVHC), which is the first step in restricting the chemical within the European Union.

Still, the FDA allows a minute amount of acrylamide in drinking water—0.12mg per 80z.

Yet, foods like French fries, in as small a serving as 6oz can contain up to 60mg of the chemical. That’s nearly 500 times the legal limit.

A study by the Environmental Law Foundation revealed that potato chips surpass the legal levels of acrylamide, as well, ranging anywhere from 39 times to 900 times higher than what is deemed safe.

But, this heat-induced chemical isn’t just found in potato chips and French fries. Other guilty offenders include:

  • Crispy bread
  • Bread crust
  • Roasted breakfast cereals
  • Coffee
  • Roasted potatoes

Managing Acrylamide in Your Diet

acrylamide foodsDon’t stop cooking your vegetables just yet! While some health professionals suggest focusing on eating as many raw foods as possible, there are other ways to avoid the carcinogenic toxin.

Cooking methods:

A good rule of thumb when cooking at home: the browner the food, the higher the levels of acrylamide will be. So, a lightly toasted slice of bread is much lower in acrylamide than a very dark or blackened slice. When cooking veggies, avoid frying, baking or roasting; instead, steam or boil them. These methods don’t brown or dry the vegetables, which is what you want to avoid.

If you do want to fry potatoes, soak them in water for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking; this protects the nutrients and lowers the risk of acrylamide formation.

Avoid processed foods:

Avoiding processed fare is a staple rule in any healthy diet. In this case, foods such as potato chips, cereal, fries, cookies, and crackers are all made with high levels of heat, which automatically causes this dangerous chemical reaction….Just another good reason to stick to a whole, plant-based diet.

Cooking process:

Time is an important factor in acrylamide levels, and thus, taking your food off the grill or pan just before it browns is another method of slowing or avoiding this chemical reaction. When grilling vegetables, be sure to turn them frequently to avoid charring. When frying, do so only at low temperatures, to avoid crisping or burning.

Now, you don’t need to stop eating roasted vegetables or drinking coffee. The benefit of vitamins and antioxidants clearly outweigh the small risk. But, you should limit your intake of French fries, potato chips and processed and packaged baked goods. You’ll avoid the trans fats, as well, and as a bonus you’ll be limiting your intake of foods that increase acrylamide.

In addition, you’re far less likely to ingest cancerous levels of carcinogenic acrylamide when you eat home-cooked foods compared to industrially or restaurant-prepared foods. And when you do eat at home, to reduce your biggest risk of carcinogenic acrylamide, the best advice is to avoid overcooking your food.

What’s the verdict? Are you giving up fried foods?

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