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Acrylamide is a potentially toxic and potentially cancer causing substance that can be naturally present in uncooked, raw foods in very small amounts. But for this substance to pose a risk of toxicity or cancer, it must be present in foods in much larger amounts and these larger amounts do not occur unless those foods have been heat treated during processing or cooked.


There are many non-dietary sources exposure to this substance such as cigarette smoke (about 1-2 micrograms per cigarette) and cosmetics. There is also airborne release of acrylamide during many different manufacturing processes, including paper, asphalt, petroleum, photographic film, construction adhesives, varnishes and dyes.


Acrylamide is currently classified as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen. Acrylamide has also been shown to be a neurotoxin that can damage nervous system function. It's likely to accomplish this damage by disrupting the signal that gets sent by nitric oxide at the onset of the nerve firing process. The neurotoxin and probable cancer causing aspects of acrylamide make it clear that humans should not be exposed to excess amounts of it from any source.


In food, acrylamide can be formed when amino acids interact with sugars in the presence of heat. Many kinds of sugars and many different amino acids can interact in this way. However, one particular amino acid-called asparagine has a far greater tendency to interact with sugars and to form acrylamide than other amino acids.


Level of acrylamide formation after combination with sugar and application of heat:

It is also possible to form acrylamide without the presence of sugars. When fats in food are oxidized, unique 3-carbon molecules (including acrylic acid and acrolein) can be formed. In the presence of heat, these 3 carbon molecules can interact with asparagine to form acrylamide. It is common for fried foods to form acrylamide in this way, even when there is little sugar found in the foods, no sugar added during frying and little breakdown of starch into sugar.

Higher levels of acrylamide are found in asparagus based at 428°F/220°C for five minutes. These levels fell into the 200-250 ppb range. 

  • ppb = parts per billion

  • ppm = parts per million

ppm levels are 1,000 times greater than ppb levels and the following are processed foods containing these dangerous levels. of acrylamide.

  • Biscuits 0.95 ppm

  • Broccoli (tinned) 235 ppb

  • Chips (French fries) 1.325 ppm

  • Cocoa 0.909 ppm

  • Coffee 300 ppb

  • Grain based coffee substitutes 5.399 ppm

  • Onion soup mix (dehydrated) 1.184 ppm

  • Potato crisps 9270 ppb

  • Wheat cereals (toasted) 1.057 ppm


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Foods must definitely contain at least minimal amounts of the amino acid asparagine in order for substantial amounts of acrylamide to be formed. However, the amount of acrylamide formed cannot be predicted based solely on the amount of asparagine found in a food as other factors are involved in the process. When all factors for forming acrylamide are present, it takes approximately 250°F/121°C for the formation of acrylamide in most foods. Acrylamide formation may peak in temperature ranges commonly used for roasting (250-375°F/121-191°C).

Formation of acrylamide occurs in green tea and coffee beans when roasted at these temperatures. The toasting of wheat bread (also commonly done within this temperature range) has also been shown to increase acrylamide formation. A temperature range of 325-375°F/163-191°C is also frequently used for the deep frying in oil of French fried potato chips and potato crisps. Once again, it is important to realise that the heating of foods at temperatures between 250F-375°F/121-191°C does not automatically mean that acrylamide is being formed in the food. It takes a combination of the amino acid asparagine together with a form of sugar or the oxidation of fat into smaller carbon molecules, or both, to result in substantial formation of acrylamide.

Acrylamide levels are high in certain canned black olives depending on the specific handling, storage, processing (especially preservation and darkening methods) and heating steps that allow the formation of acrylamide. Olive oil, however, appears to not undergo this process so shows no sign of dangerous levels of acrylamide.

The amount of asparagine in asparagus can increase from 41 to 820 micromoles/gram (dry weight) over the course of post-harvest storage. Only five days of storage were required for those much higher levels of asparagine to be formed in the asparagus. Even though higher levels of acrylamide do not automatically form when asparagine is present in a food and, even though asparagus is not a red flag food when it comes to acrylamide, this relationship suggests that one of the building blocks for acrylamide from asparagine may be more limited when food is cooked in its freshest form.

The highest risk foods for acrylamide exposure fall into three basic categories:

  • Fried, processed foods like potato crisps, chips and French fries.

  • Baked snack foods containing wheat and sugar, including biscuits, cookies and crackers.

  • Processed foods involving toasted grains, including toasted wheat cereals and roasted grain based coffee substitutes, roasted coffee and cocoa beans (and the chocolate made from them), some dehydrated soup mixes and some canned black pitted olives.

Acrylamide and the human body

Once ingested, acrylamide can be detoxified in the body if it is processed through the cytochrome P450 enzyme system and converted into glycidamide, or if it is hooked together with the sulphur containing, antioxidant molecule called glutathione. Even though the metabolic pathways can help to detoxify acrylamide, humans can still overload the detoxifying capability of these pathways and put themselves at health risk from excess exposure to this substance.

In order to lower the risk of problems from acrylamide, there must be plenty of glutathione on hand in the metabolic reserves. One way to help support glutathione supplies is to consume plenty of sulphur containing foods and especially foods that contain significant amounts of the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine which are the key components of glutathione.

Rich sources of cysteine are: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, egg yolks, garlic, oats, onions, poultry, red peppers and yogurt (plain with live cultures).

Rich sources of glutamic acid are: beef, cheese, halibut, kombu, legumes, milk, oily fish, organ meats, poultry and games birds, rabbit, seaweed and venison.

Rich sources of glycine are: alfalfa, beef, cheese, halibut, legumes, milk, oily fish, organ meats, poultry and game birds, rabbit, seaweed and venison.

Highest sources of sulphur in milligrams per 100 grams:

  • Scallops 520 mg

  • Lobster 510 mg

  • Crab 470 mg

  • Prawns 370 mg

  • Mussels 350 mg

  • Haddock 290 mg

  • Brazil nuts 290 mg

  • Peanuts 260 mg

  • Cod 250 mg

  • Oysters 250 mg

  • Chicken livers 250 mg

  • Cheese (parmesan) 250 mg

  • Caviar (fish roe) 240 mg

  • Peaches (dried) 240 mg

  • Cheese (cheddar or stilton) 230 mg

  • Salmon 220 mg

  • Beef 220 mg

  • Eggs 200 mg

  •  Apricots (dried) 160 mg

  • Almonds 150 mg

  • Rabbit 130 mg

  • Walnuts 100 mg

  • Peppercorns 100 mg

  • Cabbage 90 mg

  • Spinach 90 mg

  • Brussel sprouts 80 mg

  • Chickpeas 80 mg

  • Figs (dried) 80 mg

  • Coconut 80 mg

  • Hazel nuts 80 mg

  • Mung beans 60 mg

  • Dates 50 mg

  • Split peas 50 mg

  • Onions 50 mg

  • Leeks 50 mg

  • Radishes 40 mg

NOTE: Those suffering with bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis should avoid sulphur-rich foods and, rarely, some susceptible individuals may have an intolerance to thiols found in certain sulphur-rich foods. See the Food Allergies page.

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"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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