It’s time for our weekly “Everything You Eat Will Somehow Kill You” blog post. We all know the health consequences of eating fast food and oversized restaurant portions, and just last week we learned that many seemingly harmless grocery store products secretly contain trans fat. Personally, I’ve been avoiding all risk by subsisting on small berries and nuts I gather through urban foraging, and when I want to treat myself to an actual meal, I haven’t dared venture out of my chemical-free kitchen. But my extreme measures may be all for naught, as the FDA has revealed that cooking food at home—even the most organic of natural grains and vegetables—could kill us all.
Pardon my apocalyptic tone, but it’s true. Acrylamide—a chemical that naturally forms in foods prepared at high temperatures—is a carcinogen that can cause severe nerve damage in high doses. A scary fact when you consider the stuff “is found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet,” according to the FDA in a release posted today.
Side note: acrylamide is also used as an industrial chemical in waste water treatment. Yum.
The deadly chemical forms in cooking from naturally occurring amino acids and sugars. If you’re steaming or boiling foods, acrylamide will not form, and you needn’t worry. But if you bake, toast, roast, fry, or char your food over a fire, you are technically a sadistic and unknowing chemist preparing yourself a meal of certain death. That being said, common foods like french fries, potato chips, coffee, boxed cereal, and morning toast all contain cancer-causing acrylamide. Aside from steaming and boiling, if you’re eating food that was prepared courtesy of heat, you’re ingesting acrylamide.
There is good news and there is bad news.
The Good: The human race has been ingesting acrylamide for millennia. (Thanks a lot for inventing fire Homo Sapiens!) We’re all still here, and despite the fact that our food supply is trying to kill us, many of us live long and productive lives. In short, if you avoid the types of foods you already know are bad for you—anything fast, fried, or processed—the minuscule amount of acrylamide you ingest will not significantly impact your health.
The Bad: If you do struggle to eliminate unhealthy items like fast and processed food from your diet, you’re putting yourself at risk of developing cancer. You already know those foods clog arteries, make you obese, bring on deiabetes, and for all intents and purposes, break your heart.
Take the advice of an urban forager; it’s better to eat mindfully than to not eat at all. Also, never eat a salad prepared from greens found behind the laser tag place. Trust me.