Swedish researchers first argued in 2002 that acrylamide, a chemical formed when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, could cause human cancers. Since then, study after study has raised doubts about that claim, each showing that people would have to consume Guinness-World-Records portions of the substance for any realistic increase of their cancer risks.
The Swedish scare traveled the world as researchers launched their own investigations. First, a 2003 study by Harvard researcher Dr. Lorelei Mucci (and published in the British Journal of Cancer) demonstrated absolutely no link between acrylamide and human cancers. Then a 2003 Italian study published in the International Journal of Cancer found no link between fried potatoes and various human cancers. In 2007, after studying 100,000 American women, the Harvard University School of Public Health reported that there is no link between acrylamide and breast cancer.
The acrylamide scare has come full circle and back to its origin in Sweden. In a recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute confirmed that there is no link between long-term acrylamide intake and breast cancer. Now another study, also from Sweden and published in the International Journal of Cancer, found no link between long-term intake of acrylamide and endometrial cancer.
Such a flurry of evidence hasn’t stopped the news media and health organizations from misguidedly sounding the alarm, and offering tips on how to avoid acrylamide poisoning. Here’s one from us: Do not eat 182 pounds of French fries every day for a lifetime.
As is common with overblown warnings like this, scaring health-conscious consumers away from particular ingredients or foods often turns them away from vital nutrients. Olives, almonds, asparagus, spinach, beets and prune juice are all perfectly healthy acrylamide-rich foods.
In a world where people eat more cheaply and with far greater choice than ever before, some people always need a scare to cling to. But there are enough real scares in this world. We can do without the bogus ones. And this should be among the first to go.