Snack Size Science: Getting to the heart of acrylamide

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Amino acid

FoodNavigator's Snack Size Science brings you the week's top science. This week, acrylamide intakes may not pose a problem for pre-menopausal breast health, but it may be dangerous for heart health, according to a couple of new studies. And Belgian researchers give a glimpse of ways to prevent formation of the compound in the first place.

Here is a direct transcription of this podcast:

This is FoodNavigator’s Snack Size Science​. I’m Stephen Daniells - bringing you the week’s top science in digestible amounts.

Acrylamide, a little compound with an unsavoury reputation, has barely been out of the headlines this week. Researchers from Harvard reported that the compound, which is known to cause cancer in lab rats, had no impact on the risk of pre​-menopausal breast cancer amongst American women.

The results echoed those of other human studies that everyday exposure to acrylamide in food is too low to be of concern, but this hasn’t stopped regulators and the global food industry from initiatives to reduce or remove the compound from food.

Produced by the heat-induced reaction between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine, acrylamide burst in to the public consciousness in 2002 when Swedish scientists found high levels in carbohydrate-rich foods, like French fries and potato chips.

While the Harvard study may offer some hope with respect to pre-menopausal breast cancer risk, concerns surfaced this week for acrylamide’s impact on heart health following a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ by Polish and Swedish researchers.

This study looked at feeding volunteers an unhealthy 160 grams of potato chips per day, and found an increase in the levels of compounds linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which may increase the risk of certain chronic disease.

While it is questionable how many ‘normal’ consumers would eat 160 grams of chips a day, the results do support the efforts of companies involved in reducing or eliminating the formation of acrylamide in such products.

Enzymes such as DSM’s Preventase and Novozyme's Acrylaway, work by converting asparagine into aspartic acid, thereby preventing it from being converted into acrylamide. The effect is a reduction in acrylamide in the final product by as much as 90 per cent.

Other approaches have looked at adding other amino acids to compete with asparagine, and Belgian researchers reported this week that adding cysteine could reduce the concentration of acrylamide by a tasty 99 per cent.

Questions remain over how cysteine may affect the colour, texture and flavour of the finished products, but the approach may represent another way of removing the unsavoury from the savoury.

For FoodNavigator’s Snack Size Science​, I’m Stephen Daniells.

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