Lovers of foods cooked at high temps will be happy to know that a new study indicates a chemical called acrylamide, which forms in French fries, chips, cereals, coffee, cakes and other palate-pleasers, apparently does not raise the risk of gastrointestinal cancer. But researchers warned their findings conflict with earlier evidence and do not rule out a potential link to other types of cancer.
"No association was observed between dietary acrylamide intake and risk of cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, consistent with the few other epidemiological studies on this topic," researcher Janneke Hogervorst reports in the November issue of The Journal of Nutrition. But Hogervorst, a doctoral candidate at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, urged other research groups to continue probing a possible cancer connection.
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1994 classified acrylamide as a "probable" human carcinogen based on studies in which animals were exposed to as much as 100,000 times the levels normally consumed in food. Human studies have shown that acrylamide (a chemical formed from sugars and asparagine—an amino acid or protein building block – when foods are roasted, fried, grilled or baked at high temperatures) may be linked to cancers of the uterus, ovaries and kidneys.
Boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide, which is mainly in foods made from plants such as potato products, grain products or coffee, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); it does not form, or forms at lower levels, in dairy, meat and fish products.
Acrylamide was first detected in cooked foods in April 2002. The chemical, which is also found in cigarette smoke and produced industrially for use in plastics, cosmetics, grout and water treatment products, has been found to cause nerve damage in people exposed to high doses in the workplace, according to the FDA, which is currently conducting studies to determine if acrylamide in food is hazardous to human health.
European food safety officials are beginning to advise caution in consumption of acrylamide-containing foods.
In the latest study, researchers reviewed the records of more than 120,000 men and women aged 55 to 69 involved in the Netherlands Cohort Study on diet and cancer. Their greatest dietary sources of acrylamide: Dutch spice cake and coffee.
Can't do without your daily cup o' java? Good news—at least for now: Previous studies have not shown any link between coffee and cancer risk, either.