How to Protect Yourself from These Hidden Carcinogens in Bread, Cereal, Potato Chips, Fries, and More...

by Cat Ebeling - RN, BSN &  Mike Geary - Certified Nutrition Specialist
Co-Authors:  The Fat Burning Kitchen

bread - a source of acrylamidesYou've probably heard conflicting opinions out there in the nutrition world if breads, cereals, and other grain-based foods are good for you or not.  On one hand, you've got the mega-powerful multi-billion dollar food companies that make huge profits off of cheap grain-based foods and they attempt to convince the public that breads, cereals, etc are "healthy".

On the other hand, you've got the select camp of scientists, journalists, some nutritionists, etc that believe that humans are still adapted to eating more of a "Paleo" style of diet, which greatly limits grains of all types, since grains historically never comprised more than a tiny percentage of the human diet until just the most recent agricultural age, which allowed mass production of grains for the first time in human history.

But let's forget about the "whole grain is healthy" propaganda camp vs the Paleo style nutrition camp (which I lean towards mostly, except for weekly cheat meals... because let's face it, breads and cereals are tasty, and even if we weren't meant to consume large amounts overall, I know I still want my weekly cheat meals!) ... Instead, let's focus on one particular nail in the coffin for breads, cereals, and the biggest offender, fries and chips...

The Carcinogenic Acrylamides (there's good and bad news)

You may have heard about "Acrylamides" and that their possible negative health effects as a carcinogen, but maybe you were unsure which foods have the highest concentrations.  Well, fried starchy foods are one of the worst offenders!  Acrylamides are created mostly from starchy foods that have been subjected to a high temperature. That includes foods like potato chips, french fries, corn chips, cereals, bread, crackers, pretzels and more.

Basically any starchy carbohydrate cooked at a high temperature through any method of toasting, roasting, baking, or frying will contain higher levels of acrylamides.  Acrylamides generally don't form if a food is cooked using water.  It can also be found in toasted and roasted cereal grains and bread products -- again with the highest levels contained in those baked to a golden brown... so that brown crust on the bread actually contains the highest levels of this carcinogen.

And, sorry french fry lovers... the highest acrylamide levels have been measured in any type of fried potatoes.  Potato chips and french fries fried to a golden brown contain the highest levels of nasty acrylamides.

How bad are Acrylamides?

Acrylamides in foods were discovered in 2002 by Swedish scientists, and made some big headlines (at least in America) when they were first reported. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) really has not acknowledged the negative impact of cancer-causing acrylamides, and food manufacturers, so far, are not putting warning labels on their products concerning the levels of acrylamides, either.

Acrylamides are cancer-causing chemicals that are created when foods are grilled, fried, baked or roasted at fairly high temperatures.  It is thought that an amino acid found in starchy foods, changes its form when heated to become acrylamide. High-temperature cooking methods, such as frying, baking, or broiling, have been found to produce the most acrylamides, while boiling and steaming produce far less.

Researchers in Europe and the United States have found acrylamides in certain foods that were heated to a temperature above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), but not in foods prepared below this temperature.

The World Health Organization, (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that levels of acrylamides in certain foods pose a "major concern" and more research is needed to determine the dangers.

In one study, it was found that women who consumed 40 micrograms or more of acrylamides each day had twice the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer risk of women who ate foods with little or no acrylamides. 40 mcg is the amount of acrylamides in a small portion of potato chips.

Acrylamide levels in certain foods:

  • Potato chips - 546 micrograms/kg
  • French fries - 698 micrograms/kg
  • breakfast cereal - 131 micrograms/kg
  • coffee - 8 micrograms/kg

Take note that although coffee is listed here with very small amounts of acrylamides (due to the roasting process of the beans), it is theorized that the high antioxidant levels in coffee counteracts any negative effects of this small amount of acrylamides.

Are there substances that protect your body from acrylamides?

Considering that acrylamides are found in the highest amounts in foods you should be avoiding anyway, here is yet another big reason to avoid those foods. It's particularly important to stay away from the biggest offenders as much as possible:  French fries, potato chips, corn chips and cereals.

But let's be real ... although they should be limited as much as possible, not many people want to fully give up these foods!  So with that said, how do we protect ourselves from possible harmful effects of acrylamides when we do choose to indulge?

The answer lies in antioxidants !

Researchers found that three types of antioxidants in particular -- tea polyphenols, resveratrol, and a substance found in garlic, slow down or counteract the damage that acrylamides can do to our bodies.

Polyphenols are found in all types of teas -- black tea, green tea, white tea, red tea, etc., but it is green tea and white tea that contain the highest levels of healthy polyphenols.  With that it mind, it might be a good idea to drink high antioxidant teas on the occasions that you are eating high Acrylamide foods.

Resveratrol is the famed antioxidant found in grape skins and red wine.  It is also found in peanuts that have red skins, like Spanish peanuts.  Again, you might hypothesize that a glass of red wine and the antioxidants within can help protect against the effects of foods with Acrylamides.

Diallyl trisulfide is a compound found in fresh garlic that has been roasted, smashed or minced. Besides fighting off the bad effects of acrylamides, it is also a potent immune system booster.  All three of these compounds are also extremely effective antioxidants.

Although these particular types of antioxidants were pointed out by researchers as potentially helping to inhibit negative effects of acrylamides, I wouldn't assume that other powerful antioxidants don't help too.  As you know, cinnamon, turmeric , and other herbs such as basil, rosemary , and oregano, as well as all berries are extremely potent sources of antioxidants that could potentially be protective as well.

The bottom line:  As much as you can -- avoid fried, roasted or baked starchy foods... especially french fries, potato chips, and corn chips; as well as processed cereals, breads, and crackers.

Not only are these specific foods empty calories with very little micro-nutrition density, they are also insulin increasing (can pack on belly fat), and potentially cancer-causing foods.  Acrylamides are simply one more reason to avoid them.

On your "cheat meals" when you choose to eat starchy foods that may be high in acrylamides, make sure to wash it down with some high-antioxidant green tea, oolong tea, white tea, rooibos tea, or another great source of antioxidants.  

If you don't already have a copy, make sure to check out our Fat Burning Kitchen program  (now available in hard copy on that page too) for our fully comprehensive system to transform your kitchen and your body into a fat-burning machine.

Please feel free to share this article with your friends and family to help protect their health .


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Barbara L. Minton, "How to Protect Yourself From Cancer-Causing Acrylamides in the Foods You Love", Natural News, Natural, November 29, 2008.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, "Does Acrylamide in Common, Cooked Foods Cause Cancer?",, August 2, 2003.

National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet, "Acrylamide in Food and Cancer Risk", , July 29, 2008.