Snack-food makers are studying methods that may reduce levels of a potential cancer-causing chemical found in many fried and baked foods.
Last year's surprise finding of the chemical, acrylamide, in French fries, potato chips and other foods prompted a worldwide scare. Acrylamide causes cancer in animals, but experts do not know if it is dangerous to humans.
At a meeting of a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Monday, representatives from Frito-Lay and Procter & Gamble reported progress in understanding how acrylamide is formed during cooking. Studies showed an amino acid called asparagine was the major precursor to acrylamide, which appears after a food is heated.
Frito-Lay, a unit of PepsiCo Inc., is studying whether it is possible to remove asparagine from products, eliminate the reaction that seems to cause acrylamide formation, or remove acrylamide from foods after it appears.
Steps to help reduce acrylamide levels may include adding certain amino acids or minerals to foods or slowing cooking times.
There are no obvious quick fixes in this issue because acrylamide is going to be so widespread in the entire food supply. One estimate found about 38% of total calories Americans digest come from foods found to contain acrylamide.
The FDA stresses not enough is known about acrylamide for consumers to change their eating habits. The agency is sticking with advice for people to eat a balanced, low-fat diet rich in high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables.
Researchers still are trying to figure out how much acrylamide people consume.
Early FDA testing found levels vary widely among different foods and even among different batches of the same brand.
People may be getting more acrylamide from foods with relatively low levels because they eat them more. In recent FDA analyses, the foods that contributed the most acrylamide to people's diets included breakfast cereals, potato chips, French fries, cookies, toast and soft breads.
One study published in January by scientists from Harvard and Sweden's Karolinska Institute found acrylamide levels were not high enough to increase people's risk of disease.
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