Acrylamide in pregnancy
By Alexa Evans RD
By Alexa Evans RD
You might think that acrylamide sounds like some sort of plastic, it’s actually a chemical that has been in industrial use since the 1950’s. It’s used to make glues, paper and cosmetics, and is also found in cigarette smoke. It’s formed in starchy food products when they have been cooked at a high temperature.
More research is needed, but acrylamide has been shown to have cancer forming properties in animals and possibly humans. It can also cause nerve damage in humans when exposed to high doses.
The evidence around this topic is still unclear, but it has been suggested that your developing baby is exposed to acrylamide through food in the womb by crossing the placenta barrier. Studies have found that eating high amounts of acrylamide can reduce fetal growth, leading to low birth weight babies. Having a low birth weight baby may result in complications, including difficulties with weight gain, fighting infections and increasing risk of coronary heart disease in later life.
Eating a diet that is low in dietary acrylamide may help to improve fetal growth. Experts need to carry out more research to be certain of these effects, however, reducing acrylamide in your diet is not too difficult to do, so it may be worth giving it a go.
Carbohydrate-rich food products that are cooked at a high temperature are the main culprits. Fried, baked, grilled or roasted foods all contribute to the formation of acrylamide. Some examples include:
Other cooking methods that do not seem to produce acrylamide are boiling and microwaving, so using these methods as much as possible in place of roasting, frying baking or grilling can help to reduce the amount of acrylamide you consume. Processed foods tend to contain high amounts of acrylamide due to high temperature methods used in food processing. Reducing the amount of processed foods you eat, such as biscuits, cakes and ready meals and using more fresh foods can help to reduce dietary acrylamide.
Remember that thorough cooking of meat, poultry and fish products is important to destroy bacteria and reduce your risk of contracting food-borne illnesses. Acrylamide is not formed when cooking fresh meat and poultry.
Duarte-Salles et al (2013) Dietary acrylamide intake during pregnancy and fetal growth-results from the Norwegian mother and child cohort study (MoBa). Environ Health Perpect. 121(3):374-9.
European Food Safety Authority. Acrylamide (Accessed July 2013)
Food Standards Agency. Acrylamide (Accessed July 2013).
Friedman M and Levin CE (2008) Review of methods for the reduction of dietary content and toxicity of acrylamide. J Agric Food Chem. 56(15):6113-6140.
WHO. Frequently asked questions - acrylamide in food (Accessed July 2013).