The Food and Drug Administration is warning people to cut down on acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer that can form in plant-based, starchy foods when they are cooked in high-temperatures like when baking or frying.
Foods that contain acrylamide include French fries, coffees, crackers, toasted breads and dried fruits, according to the FDA.
The chemical is created from sugars and an amino acid that is normally found in food, but usually does not form in dairy, meat and fish products. The Grocery Manufactures Association explains that acrylamide is mostly found in plant products that have the "browning Maillard reaction," meaning the food gets a different flavor, texture or color when heat is applied. Typically the browner the item when cooked, the more acrylamide the food item contains.
The Grocery Manufactures Association adds that acrylamide has been found in the human diet ever since people cooked via baking, grilling, roasting, toasting and frying food items. It can be found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet, the FDA pointed out.
Scientists only discovered the compound in 2002, so research on the chemical is relatively new. Acrylamide has been linked to higher rates of cancer in animals, leading health officials to believe that it may be a carcinogen for humans as well.
The World Health Organization has said that stopping consumption of one or two foods high in acrylamide will likely not affect your overall exposure. But, the good news is that there are steps people can take to reduce acrylamide in their diets.
Boiling or steaming food does not form acrylamide, so when possible, heating your food with those methods may be ideal.
Since frying causes the chemical to form, it is best to follow manufacturers' recommendations on time and temperature when making fried foods. Do not overcook or overcrisp the items.
When making potato products, cook them to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Potatoes should also not be stored in the refrigerator, which can increase the amount of acrylamide that forms when the item is cooked. Potatoes should be kept in a dark, cool place like a closet or pantry, the FDA says.
The FDA also recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk items. Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts are also recommended.
When choosing other foods, it's always best to go with foods low in saturated fats and trans fats, which can raise "bad" LDL cholesterol and lower "good" HDL cholesterol, as well as increase your risk for a heart attack. Eating items low in cholesterol, sodium and added sugars is also a plus.