While almost everything these days lead to some sort of cancer or tumor, this one might actually be worth paying heed to. According to a report published by Food Standards Agency (FSA), eating crisps, well-browned roast potatoes and bread slices which are more than lightly grilled increases the risk of cancer, and thus should be avoided.
This risk is enhanced by over consumption of acrylamide, which is a chemical produced naturally when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide was tested on animals with the results showing a direct correlation between the substance and cancer. While it hasn’t been tested on humans, the scientific consensus is that it is likely to have the same effect.
FSA director of policy Steve Wearne said:
“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.
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.”
The warning includes all foods that are starch rich, including sweet potatoes, root vegetables, crackers, cereals, cereal baby food, bread, biscuits and even coffee. FSA says that people in all age groups are eating more than healthy levels of starch while being unaware of the risks.
Cath Mulholland, a senior adviser at the FSA, spoke on the issue,
“If you’re living on crisps, burnt toast, whatever, that’s going to be more risky than a healthy diet. It’s not a high level of risk but it’s higher than is comfortable.”
The FSA has actually launched a campaign to raise awareness called “Go for Gold,” which focuses on people encouraged to go for a golden yellow color or lighter when frying, baking, roasting or toasting starch-rich foods. Wearne also added that boiling, steaming or microwaving can also help in limiting the browning and reducing levels of acrylamide.
Other safety precautions include eating a varied diet, and strictly following cooking instructions while making sure that you do not keep any raw potatoes in the fridge if they are to be roasted or fried in the future, as this can also increase acrylamide levels. Instead, raw potatoes for this purpose should be stored in a dark, cool temperature above 6C.
The revelation of carcinogenic nature of acrylamide in starchy foods isn’t something new, as it was first highlighted by a Swedish study in 2002. That report also included warnings relating to barbecuing meat, which was related to another substance called benzopyrene.
The FSA says they have been actively working with the food industry for over a decade to reduce acrylamide in restaurants and packaged foods.
Helen Munday, the Food and Drink Federation’s chief scientific officer, said:
“Although acrylamide can’t be completely eliminated in any kitchen, UK food manufacturers have been working with supply chain partners, regulators and other bodies, at home and abroad, to reduce its formation for a number of years.
Manufacturers also provide clear instructions on-pack for consumers and catering customers to follow when cooking foods at home or in commercial kitchens.”
Gavin Shears, who is a senior policy adviser in contaminants at the FSA, said:
“We are not expecting people to go out and radically change their diets if they’re eating a healthy balanced diet.
If you slightly overdo your roast potatoes on a Sunday, it’s not that you have to throw them away. We’re not asking people to cut out certain foods.
This is about reducing your overall lifetime risk through simple steps.”
Yet, after all, the fear mongering and warnings, there are no regulatory limits set for acrylamide levels in food. In 2016 plans for a legal limit were forced back by the European Commission after strong lobbying by the industry.
The international expert scientific committee, JEFCA, has also declared acrylamide intake as a “human health concern” and recommends that it should be consumed in as low quantities as possible.