Reduce cancer risk by limiting fried foods

Reducing your consumption of certain types of fried foods can help lower the amount of a possible cancer-causing chemical in your diet, according to US health officials.

Acrylamide can form in some foods – including potatoes, cereals, crackers or breads, dried fruits and coffee – during high-temperature cooking processes such as frying and baking. Acrylamide is found in 40% of the calories consumed in the average American diet, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

High levels of acrylamide have been found to cause cancer in animals, which makes scientists believe that the chemical is likely to cause cancer in people as well, the US Food and Drug Administration said.

"Generally speaking, acrylamide is more likely to accumulate when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures," FDA chemist Lauren Robin said in an agency news release. She added that boiling and steaming foods do not typically cause acrylamide to form.

Because it's so common in foods, it isn't feasible to eliminate acrylamide from your diet. However, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of acrylamide consumed by you and your family, Robin said.

She offered the following tips:

- When frying frozen french fries, follow the manufacturer's recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or browning.

- Toast bread to a light brown colour rather than a dark brown colour. Do not eat very brown areas.

- Cook cut potato products such as frozen French fries to a golden yellow colour rather than a brown colour. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.

- Don't store potatoes in the refrigerator, because this can increase acrylamide levels during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.

Been around for a while

Acrylamide has probably been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting or frying foods. But it was only in the last 10 years that scientists first discovered the chemical in food, according to the FDA.

Since then, the agency has been investigating the effects of acrylamide as well as potential measures to reduce it.

More information

The US National Cancer Institute has more about acrylamide in food.

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