Can Crispy Foods Cause Cancer?

Most of us prefer our fried and baked foods to be golden brown and crisp. Foods become golden brown due to a process called the Maillard Reaction, during which sugars in foods react with protein. This process also causes the formation of a chemical called Acrylamide (AA), which is classified as a carcinogen for humans. Should we be worried? Read on.​1​

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Acrylamide is present in starchy, plant based foods cooked at high temperatures, in addition to bread, breakfast cereals, cigarette smoke and industrial sources such as plastic plants. French fries and potato crisps are a common source for AA, which is also present in a number of tea, coffee and smokeless tobacco products.​2–8​

Interestingly, microwave cooking seems to result in greater AA content in foods. ​4,9​

Acrylamide has been classified as ‘probably carcinogenic’ by the American Cancer Society, which goes ahead and cites other authoritative sources stating it to be a ‘probable human carcinogen’ (International Agency for Research on Cancer), ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ (US National Toxicology Program), and ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans’ (US Environmental Protection Agency). AA is also classified as a neurotoxin.​8​

If you have more questions, you’ll find more information from the following sources:

There have been numerous studies that explore the link between AA and different types of cancers. A summary of these are presented below. While some have found associations both co-relational and causal, quite a few others have found no link.

  • No Association found with renal, prostate, breast (+menopausal), pancreatic, endometrial/ovarian cancers. ​10–21​
  • Co-Relational / Causal links found with endometrial, ovarian cancers.​10,22,23​
  • Inconclusive.​1,24​

Should we be worried about our ingestion of Acrylamide from dietary sources? No. Research suggests that the amount we ingest via cooked foods is quite likely to be insufficient for neurotoxic and carcinogenic outcomes. ​8​

My personal conclusion: Since our exposure to Acrylamide is not only through crisp/browned foods (coffee, tea, cigarette smoke, industrial sources…) and we know it to be a substance with adverse effects, in addition to many others with similar outcomes that we are regularly exposed to during the course of our daily lives, I would work towards limiting our exposure to sources of Acrylamide where and when possible.


  1. 1.
    Virk-Baker M, Nagy T, Barnes S, Groopman J. Dietary acrylamide and human cancer: a systematic review of literature. Nutr Cancer. 2014;66(5):774-790. doi:10.1080/01635581.2014.916323
  2. 2.
    McAdam K, Kimpton H, Vas C, Rushforth D, Porter A, Rodu B. The acrylamide content of smokeless tobacco products. Chemistry Central Journal. Published online October 12, 2015. doi:10.1186/s13065-015-0132-1
  3. 3.
    Khan MR, Alothman ZA, Naushad M, et al. Occurrence of acrylamide carcinogen in Arabic coffee Qahwa, coffee and tea from Saudi Arabian market. Sci Rep. Published online February 2017. doi:10.1038/srep41995
  4. 4.
    Michalak J, Gujska E, Klepacka J. The Effect of Domestic Preparation of Some Potato Products on Acrylamide Content. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. Published online August 19, 2011:307-312. doi:10.1007/s11130-011-0252-2
  5. 5.
    Martinez, Rodriguez, Mondragon, Lorenzo, Santos. Influence of Potato Crisps Processing Parameters on Acrylamide Formation and Bioaccesibility. Molecules. Published online October 23, 2019:3827. doi:10.3390/molecules24213827
  6. 6.
    Elmore JS, Briddon A, Dodson AT, Muttucumaru N, Halford NG, Mottram DS. Acrylamide in potato crisps prepared from 20 UK-grown varieties: Effects of variety and tuber storage time. Food Chemistry. Published online September 2015:1-8. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.02.103
  7. 7.
    Powers SJ, Mottram DS, Curtis A, Halford NG. Acrylamide concentrations in potato crisps in Europe from 2002 to 2011. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A. Published online September 2013:1493-1500. doi:10.1080/19440049.2013.805439
  8. 8.
    Tardiff RG, Gargas ML, Kirman CR, Leigh Carson M, Sweeney LM. Estimation of safe dietary intake levels of acrylamide for humans. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Published online February 2010:658-667. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2009.11.048
  9. 9.
    Michalak J, Czarnowska-Kujawska M, Klepacka J, Gujska E. Effect of Microwave Heating on the Acrylamide Formation in Foods. Molecules. Published online September 10, 2020:4140. doi:10.3390/molecules25184140
  10. 10.
    Wilson KM, Mucci LA, Rosner BA, Willett WC. A Prospective Study on Dietary Acrylamide Intake and the Risk for Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online August 6, 2010:2503-2515. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-10-0391
  11. 11.
    Xie J, Terry KL, Poole EM, et al. Acrylamide Hemoglobin Adduct Levels and Ovarian Cancer Risk: A Nested Case–Control Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online February 15, 2013:653-660. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-12-1387
  12. 12.
    Mucci LA, Wilson KM. Acrylamide Intake through Diet and Human Cancer Risk. J Agric Food Chem. Published online August 2008:6013-6019. doi:10.1021/jf703747b
  13. 13.
    Wilson KM, Mucci LA, Cho E, Hunter DJ, Chen WY, Willett WC. Dietary Acrylamide Intake and Risk of Premenopausal Breast Cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology. Published online March 3, 2009:954-961. doi:10.1093/aje/kwn421
  14. 14.
    Graff RE, Cho E, Preston MA, Sanchez A, Mucci LA, Wilson KM. Dietary Acrylamide Intake and Risk of Renal Cell Carcinoma in Two Large Prospective Cohorts. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online May 14, 2018:979-982. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-18-0320
  15. 15.
    Wilson KM, Giovannucci E, Stampfer MJ, Mucci LA. Dietary acrylamide and risk of prostate cancer. Int J Cancer. Published online September 14, 2011:479-487. doi:10.1002/ijc.26383
  16. 16.
    Pelucchi C, Rosato V, Bracci PM, et al. Dietary acrylamide and the risk of pancreatic cancer in the International Pancreatic Cancer Case–Control Consortium (PanC4). Annals of Oncology. Published online February 2017:408-414. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdw618
  17. 17.
    Burley VJ, Greenwood DC, Hepworth SJ, et al. Dietary acrylamide intake and risk of breast cancer in the UK women’s cohort. Br J Cancer. Published online October 19, 2010:1749-1754. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6605956
  18. 18.
    Kotemori A, Ishihara J, Zha L, et al. Dietary acrylamide intake and risk of breast cancer: The Japan Public Health Center-based Prospective Study. Cancer Sci. Published online February 8, 2018:843-853. doi:10.1111/cas.13496
  19. 19.
    Kotemori A, Ishihara J, Zha L, et al. Dietary acrylamide intake and the risk of endometrial or ovarian cancers in Japanese women. Cancer Sci. Published online August 24, 2018:3316-3325. doi:10.1111/cas.13757
  20. 20.
    Obón-Santacana M, Kaaks R, Slimani N, et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and endometrial cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Br J Cancer. Published online June 17, 2014:987-997. doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.328
  21. 21.
    Hogervorst JGF, van den Brandt PA, Godschalk RWL, van Schooten F-J, Schouten LJ. Interaction between dietary acrylamide intake and genetic variants for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer risk. Eur J Nutr. Published online February 14, 2018:1033-1045. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1619-z
  22. 22.
    Hogervorst JGF, van den Brandt PA, Godschalk RWL, van Schooten F-J, Schouten LJ. The influence of single nucleotide polymorphisms on the association between dietary acrylamide intake and endometrial cancer risk. Sci Rep. Published online October 7, 2016. doi:10.1038/srep34902
  23. 23.
    Hogervorst JGF, van den Brandt PA, Godschalk RWL, van Schooten F-J, Schouten LJ. Interactions between dietary acrylamide intake and genes for ovarian cancer risk. Eur J Epidemiol. Published online April 8, 2017:431-441. doi:10.1007/s10654-017-0244-0
  24. 24.
    Obón-Santacana M, Peeters PHM, Freisling H, et al. Dietary Intake of Acrylamide and Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online October 9, 2014:291-297. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-14-0636

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