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STUDY: Amino acid, when heated, helps form possible carcinogen
ABSTRACT: Scientists have found a clue to the chemical reaction that may cause potato chips, french fries and other fried or baked starchy foods to build up high levels of a possible cancer-causing substance.
COMMENTARY: The suspect is asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid that, when heated with certain sugars such as glucose, leads to the formation of the worrisome substance acrylamide.
The Food and Drug Administration has made studying acrylamide’s risk and determining how to lower its levels in food one of its highest research priorities, according to a plan that agency officials were to discuss Monday with consumer groups and food manufacturers.
Canada’s government made the discovery about the suspect chemical reaction, and has ordered food manufacturers to look for ways to alter it and thus lower levels of acrylamide in food. Cincinnati-based manufacturer Procter & Gamble Co. says its scientists also have found the asparagine connection. And Swiss and British scientists report in this week’s edition of the journal Nature that they, too, found the link.
It is the first clue to emerge in the mystery of acrylamide since Swedish scientists made the surprise announcement in the spring that high levels of the possible carcinogen are in numerous everyday foods: french fries, potato chips, some types of breakfast cereals and breads — plenty of high-carbohydrate foods that are fried or baked at high temperatures. The chemical was not found in boiled foods, which are cooked at lower temperatures.
Acrylamide is used to produce plastics and dyes and to purify drinking water. Although traces have been found in water, no one expected high levels to be in basic foods.
It causes cancer in test animals, but it has not been proved to do so in people. Still, Swedish scientists have said the levels are high enough that foodborne acrylamide might be responsible for several hundred cases of cancer in that country each year.
The food industry stresses that while fried potato products are getting most of the bad publicity — most testing so far shows the highest levels in them — acrylamide is in a wide variety of foods. Procter & Gamble said Friday that its testing found acrylamide in such previously unimplicated foods as roasted asparagus and banana chips.
Everyone should be eating a healthy whole food diet. By doing so you will limit the quantity of this and other potentially harmful substances. Remember fruits and veggies and whole grains will promote your health. Try to eat things as they occur in nature with the least amount of processing.