Ladies and gentlemen,
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and thank you to all of you from different secondary schools for making the effort to come here and be with us today. I'm Siaw Fong, Director of Research and Quality Assurance Division of the Department of Chemistry Malaysia. I have been working here since five years ago after I graduated from the University of Malaya in year 2005.
Today I'm going to talk particularly on acrylamide, a chemical substance which is usually found in deep fried food. The main purpose of this talk is to update you on the existence of acrylamide in fast foods that we consumed and public health risks that they may cause.
Please listen attentively as this topic has become an issue concerning the public health. I shall only take around 10 to 12 minutes of your time. My presentation is made up of 3 main parts: The formation of acrylamide, its effects on our health and ways to prevent its formation.
Please feel free to interrupt me if there is something which needs further explanation. Otherwise, there will be a Q&A session at the end of this talk. I can see that most of you are interested in this topic as you are concerned about what are you eating every day.
A lot of people do not aware that there exists a chemical substance called acrylamide in fast foods that we like such as McDonalds or KFC. We also do not know whether this substance is harmful to us or not. Let me generally tell you on what is acrylamide. Acrylamide is a substance which has the chemical formula C3H5NO with the IUPAC name 2-propenamide. It is produced in the industry as water treatment agent and also being used in products such as plastics and cosmetics. We can also find acrylamide in cigarette smoke. It is not intentionally added to our food but formed naturally. So, how is it formed in our food?
Acrylamide is formed in some foods during high temperature cooking processes such as frying, baking and roasting. Some of you might be wondering, what are the substances that lead to the formation of acrylamide? The answer is asparagine and reducing sugars or reactive carbonyls. Asparagine is an amino acid which is naturally found in food. It does not come from food packaging or the environment. When these two substances are exposed together to high temperatures, a reaction will occur between them and forming acrylamide as illustrated in the reaction equation shown. Acrylamide is found mainly in foods made from plants, such as potato products, grain products, or coffee. Generally, acrylamide is more likely to accumulate when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures. However, boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide. Why is this so? This is because the temperature during boiling and steaming is not high enough to cause acrylamide to be formed.
So, will acrylamide cause any risk to our health? Acrylamide has caused cancer in animals in studies where animals were exposed to acrylamide at very high doses. It has also causes nerve damage in people exposed to very high levels at work. Moreover, it reduces fertility of male animals and could cause similar effects in humans. Research is still being conducted to determine whether acrylamide in food is a potential risk to human health. However, most people are not exposed to acrylamide levels high enough to cause these effects.
Since there might be potential risks of acrylamide towards our health, what can we do to prevent its formation? We can reduce the food processing time. This will reduce the amount of acrylamide formed as prolonged period of cooking could lead to more acrylamide production. Next, we can lower the cooking temperature. As acrylamide is typically formed at high temperatures, therefore we can cook at lower temperatures or even change our cooking methods. This is because boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide, thus reducing the chance of acrylamide being formed.
From the graph shown, we can see that when the sugar content is low, the amount of acrylamide formed is lower. When the asparagine content is low but sugar content is high, the amount of acrylamide formed is still high. Therefore we can conclude that the amount of sugar in food is the main factor in determining the amount of acrylamide that will be produced. Thus, we can choose raw foods with lower sugars content for cooking to reduce the formation of acrylamide and reduce consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperatures. We should also avoid taking excessive amount of overcooked food. On the other hand, we can also reduce exposure to acrylamide in the environment. This can be done by avoiding exposure to tobacco and second hand smoke.
Now we can see the pictures of French fries and toasted bread. The picture on the left are processed for shorter period and have lighter colours. Those at the right hand side are overcooked, thus having darker colours and higher amount of acrylamide. Therefore, all of you are advised to avoid consuming overcooked foods as this might affect our health.
Although acrylamide may cause serious effects in animals and human, we need not to stop eating foods that are fried, roasted, or baked. All these foods are part of a regular diet. My advice is to adopt a healthy eating plan.