Burnt Toast And Potatoes Could Lead To Cancer, Food Scientists Warn


Starchy foods like bread and potatoes can emit high levels of the potentially carcinogenic compound acrylamide if cooked at high temperatures and for a long time, warned government food researchers in the United Kingdom.

Acrylamide is produced when these foods are fried, roasted, or grilled for a long time at high temperatures.

In its new campaign launched last Monday, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) advised against browning these starchy foods, simply cooking them to a golden yellow color.

“The scientific consensus is that acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans,” wrote FSA in its statement, but other experts are quick to say that the link is not yet proven in humans.

Minimizing Acrylamide Produced In Cooking

Apart from moderating cooking of high-starch foods, potatoes and parsnips should also not be kept in the refrigerator. Sugar levels rise in those vegetables at cold environments, likely enhancing the acrylamide content produced with cooking, the FSA explained.

Acrylamide is naturally produced by the cooking process, but its highest levels are detected in high-starch treats cooked above 120 degrees Celsius. These food items include bread, crisps, cereals, crackers and biscuits, cakes, and coffee due to the roasting of beans.

Grilling bread to create toast, for instance, causes more of the substance to be created. The darker the toast, the more acrylamide present, with the sugar, amino acids, and water in the brad combining to form color, flavors, and acrylamide during browning.

There is no established amount of acrylamide that is tolerable among humans, but its new campaign emphasized the need to implement changing in food preparations, including:

  • Strive for a golden yellow color during frying, toasting, and processing starchy foods.
  • Store raw potatoes in a cool and dark place at above 6 degrees Celsius.
  • Closely follow cooking or reheating instructions when it comes to pizza, chips, parsnips, and roast potatoes.
  • Consume a healthy and balanced diet consisting of five vegetable and fruit portions a day, along with starchy carbs.

Unclear Link To Cancer

Acrylamide in food could be associated with cancer but the link is not yet clear and consistent in humans, according to Cancer Research UK health information officer Emma Shields.

"To be on the safe side, people can reduce their exposure by following a normal healthy, balanced diet,” Shields said, recommending less intake of high-calorie foods such as chips, crisps, and biscuits. She also cited other documented risk factors for cancer, including obesity, smoking, and alcohol.

Animal research has demonstrated that acrylamide is toxic to DNA and leads to cancer, so the same is practically assumed in people. This does not pose a real public health danger, according to Cambridge professor David Spiegelhalter.

Even adults with the highest intakes of the chemical would need to take 160 times as much acrylamide to reach a tumor-increasing level in mice, he explained.

In comparison, smoking exposed humans to up to four times more of the chemical than non-smokers.

For the FSA, however, it’s an awareness issue, too — most people are unaware of acrylamide and its potential risks.

The highlight should be on small changes to reduce intake while still eating plenty of starchy veggies and carbs as noted in government recommendations, said FSA policy director Steve Wearne.

Dubbed as “Go for Gold,” the campaign is made in partnership with Olympic medalist and mother of four Denise Lewis.

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