Acrylamides are hitting the press again lately, as the EU decides whether they are to be considered safe in foods, despite being registered as both a carcinogen and a mutagen on the reassuringly named "Substances of Very High Concern" list since 2010.
It was its reputation of toxic effects on the nervous system and on fertility, that qualified it for its "high concern" status, and any industrial facilities that produce, store, or use acrylamides are rigorously controlled and licensed.
All well and good for an inorganic industrial chemical used mostly in building materials, plastics and cosmetics.
But in 2002 a researcher in Sweden, bored with the rigours of empirical testing, literally stuck her lunch in the machine that they were using to detect Acrylamides, and it went off the chart.
Newspaper headlines were full of her results for a few days, but quickly, her great discovery became wrappers for the same starchy, cancer-causing carbohydrate foods she had been testing - such is the faddy nature of pseudo-science articles...
It turns out that heating starches in the presence of oxygen and oil creates very simple, carbohydrate-like compounds such as C3H5NO - but worthy of 'high concern'...
Several attempts have been made by numerous food associations to disprove this cracking bit of research luck, but as yet, all subsequent testing has only stood to reinforce the reality.
So, how can it be that the simple act of cooking starchy foods produces such deathly compounds ?
Well, the answer is as simple as the mind that cooks it...
We are neither designed to eat complex carbohydrates, nor are we designed to eat the products of heat.
The more amazing phenomenon is that we can tolerate, eliminate and survive the range of toxins that come off the cooking process !
Such is the incredible ingenuity and resourcefulness of the human system, that it can even survive the unwittingly suicidal inventiveness of the brilliant human mind.
And the number of methods for culinary slow death are significant. So much so, that the EU funded a project called The Heat-Generated Food Toxicants (HEATOX) with the sole objective of "estimating the health risks of cooked foods, and to find alternative cooking processes".
The best that such an organisation could do for the acrylamide-industry was to notice that home-cooked is better than industrially produced foods.
So, let's get this straight...
The roasting of carbohydrate-rich foods, in the presence of oils and oxygen - will thermally degrade those carb structures and get Oxygen involved. The longer you cook for, and the higher the temperatures involved, the more conversion into acrylamides.
- Those crispy little corners on your roast potatoes
- The most burned of your onions
- The blackened corners on your toast
- The baked-solid bits of pie-crust
- Crisps, chips and pies are tops...
Those are the most loaded in acrylamides. And then we can start to look at the most degrading of all cooking processes - the dreaded BBQ...
The eroding, acidifying, acrylamiding and carbonising effects of the smoke alone - before we get to the heat and oxidation... Forget it. Eat it - but don't pretend that anything on that grill is there for any nutritional purposes - it is pure taste - pure holiday - pure family - pure summertime...
And the reason you don't know about this, is obvious. So much culture is based upon our huddling together around the results of the oven.
But it is not as if folk haven't tried to tell us !
In 2005, to give the whole story some air-time, a lawsuit was filed against four massive industrial food producers to reduce the allowable levels of acrylamide. It took 3 years to convince the court that unless the food producers cut acrylamide levels, then the cost to them would be having to provide a warning label ! The companies settled out of court with $3 million in fines - nothing in comparison to what they stood to lose from declining revenue...
But then some of them just couldn't resist, and chose to do it anyway, suffered the labelling imposition, and still managed to make huge profits. Anyone would think that the public just doesn't care about its health. Or can't read !
But this is a decade later, and despite those laws being in place, you've probably only ever heard nut-cases like me prattling on about such substances.
Until now, as it is up for regulation review through the EU. However, their diplomatic proposal is to let the producers regulate themselves.
Is it me, or is the idea of a self-regulating industry just hysterical - asking a profit-oriented business to limit its own profitability - wonderful ! The epitome of capitalism’s salesmanship over government...
But what to do ?
It is not as if any change in the law would protect us from eating those foods that contain masses of carcinogenic, fertility-destroying, toxin-producing acrylamides...
We need only a love of health, longevity, and well-being to make that choice.
And if we don't make that choice already, then let us not blame the law-makers.
And if we are eating those foods, then we already know that this meal is not to nourish, but entertain us. So be it. Enjoy ! There is nothing wrong with entertainment.
But too much indulgence on the path of entertainment tells us more about the mood we are in, and the emotions that we are avoiding than anything about the foods or choices we are choosing.
And this is massively useful information for those who are actually interested in the themselves.
Moving back to the food front itself...
- Starches (potatoes, grains, etc) clearly have no place in a nutrient-based human diet.
- They are great for stifling emotions (try comfort eating on lettuce !).
- Filling and clogging us so we spend less on food (it works !).
- Putting us to sleep (a great use of such foods).
- Making us denser, to avoid the penetrating effects of the world outside.
- Slowing the gut and changing its population.
- Making alcohol (in the gut, or in a still !).
What energy do you want to cultivate in YOUR life?