Toast, roasted potatoes and crisps could now give you cancer

A new report has found that toast, roasted potatoes and crisps could give you cancer; all because of the amount of roasting/toasting we give these foods.

The report is about acrylamide, a chemical substance formed by a reaction between amino acids and sugars, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK.

It’s typically in foods with high starch content, when cooked at high temperatures such as in frying, roasting and baking, the FSA states.

This reaction is called the Maillard reaction, according to the FSA.

Acrylamide is not deliberately added to foods, it is a natural by-product of the cooking process, it states.

The products of the Maillard reaction result in browning of the food (it is also known as ‘non-enzymatic browning’), the FSA states and additional aromas and flavours in the food.

According to the FSA, the duration and temperature of cooking determines the amount of acrylamide produced.

Long durations and high temperatures form more acrylamide than short durations and lower temperatures, it states.

Coffee, potatoes and crisps, bread and toast, cake and biscuits are the foods acrylamide is generally found in.

Here’s how you can be exposed to acrylamide from food

Dietary exposure to acrylamide differs with age and body weight. The main contributors to total dietary acrylamide for different age groups are as follows:

  • Infants – potato and cereal-based baby foods and products.
  • Toddlers, children and adolescents – fried potato products, bread, biscuits, crackers, crisp bread, other products based on cereals.
  • Adults – potato products, bread, coffee, porridge, breakfast cereals, cakes and pastries, biscuits, crackers and crispbread.

Some foods are rich in acrylamide due to the way they are produced. Further cooking of carbohydrate-rich foods, for example, the grilling of bread to make toast, causes more acrylamide to be produced.

This browning process is indicative of acrylamide production; levels are higher in well-cooked dark brown chips compared to lighter brown cooked chips.

Health effects of acrylamide – FSA

Biological effects of acrylamide exposure include cancer and damage to the nervous and reproductive systems.

Most of the evidence is based on effects seen in experimental animals or cells studied in a laboratory.

Whether or not acrylamide will cause these effects in humans will depend upon the level of exposure.

It has long been known that acrylamide causes neurotoxicity in humans and it caused nerve damage in the occupationally exposed tunnel workers.

However, the data for cancer and reproductive system effects in humans are not conclusive. Chemicals can be altered (metabolised) in the body to become more toxic or less toxic.

Here’s how to reduce acrylamide in your food

The FSA does not advise people to stop eating particular foods.

Follow Department of Health advice on eating a healthy, balanced diet. The FSA also recommended that:

  • When making chips at home, they are cooked to a light golden colour.
  • Bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable.
  • Manufacturers’ instructions for frying or oven-heating foods, (such as chips), should be followed carefully.
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