Are you the type of person who prefers your toast burned, your steaks blackened and your potatoes roasted to a crisp? You could be at a higher risk of developing cancers, at least according to some UK researchers. As The Guardian reports, new public health campaign launched by the UK Food Standards Agency claims people are ingesting too much acrylamide, a naturally produced chemical that results when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures.
In animal tests, acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer, and while no definitive tests have been done in humans, scientists think it’s likely to do just the same to us. According to FSA Director of Policy Steve Wearne, the risk isn’t particularly high — but it’s one easily avoided.
“You can’t point to individual people and say that person has cancer because of the amount of acrylamide in their diet but because the mechanisms by which it does have this effect in animals are similar to the mechanisms you would expect to occur in humans it’s not something we can ignore,” Wearne said.
He continued, saying, “We’re not saying avoid particular foods or groups of foods but vary your diet so you smooth out your risk. We are not saying to people to worry about the occasional piece of food or meal that’s overcooked. This is about managing risk across your lifetime.”
FSA’s “Go for Gold” campaign — urging people to cook their food to golden-brown, rather than blackened — warns about overcooking primarily foods high in starch: potatoes, crackers, cereals, bread, biscuits, even coffee.
“If you’re living on crisps, burnt toast, whatever, that’s going to be more risky than a healthy diet,” said Cath Mulholland, a senior FSA advisor. “It’s not a high level of risk but it’s higher than is comfortable.”
The campaign’s suggestions for reducing acrylamide include boiling, steaming or microwaving, when possible, as well as eating a varied diet, following cooking instructions and keeping potatoes out of the refrigerator, where levels of the potential carcinogen can increase.
The risks of acrylamide were first pointed out by a 2002 study out of Sweden, but as of now, no regulatory maximum limits exist, and plans to designate legal limits were scrapped in 2016 by the European commission.