NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 29, 2008

Be afraid, be very afraid, if you love to eat prunes or dried pears -- at least if you believe the hype about naturally occurring acrylamide in foods being a real risk to human health, says Ruth Kava, Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health.

 Swiss scientists reported at a symposium held by the American Chemical Society that acrylamide can be found in some dried fruits.  Since 2002, when Swedish scientists discovered that acrylamide is formed in carbohydrate-containing food cooked at high temperatures, there has been a concerted effort to scare consumers about foods such as French fries and potato chips.  Some self-styled consumer advocates have pontificated for years about the dangers of such.

They may have a problem, however, with this latest news, says Kava:

  • After all, most nutrition experts suggest that Americans increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.
  • And many of these obviously healthful products -- whole wheat bread in addition to dried fruits, for example -- are bound to contain acrylamide.

Truth be told, there's just no evidence that acrylamide at the levels found in foods presents either a toxic or carcinogenic hazard to people, says Kava.  The evidence against acrylamide is based on high-dose animal studies or high-dose exposures in occupational settings -- not on typical exposures in foods.

California regulators should be warned that if they insist on putting a Proposition 65 warning on prunes and dried pears, they may have to label many other foods that contain minuscule levels of substances that cause cancer (at high doses in rodents, that is), says Kava.  Which of the many naturally-occurring animal carcinogens in our foods would be next on their list?  Would it be the hydrazines in mushrooms, the benzaldehyde in cherry tomatoes or the safrole from nutmeg in pumpkin pie?

Source: Ruth Kava, " Eat Fruits -- Oh, Wait, Not Those Fruits," American Council on Science and Health," February 27, 2008.

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