Do burnt toast & roast potatoes increase cancer risk?

Burnt toast & roast potatoes!

The Food Standard’s Agency’s (FSA) ‘Go for Gold‘ campaign encourages us to avoid burnt toast and cook our roast potatoes for a shorter time to help reduce our cancer risk.

What is acrylamide?

The offending factor is a chemical called acrylamide, which is formed when starchy foods like spuds and bread are heated at high temperatures (above 120C) – think grilling, roasting, toasting and frying food. So foods like biscuits, crisps, chips and cakes are sources.

Acrylamide has been shown to damage DNA in animal studies, but it is, as yet, unclear whether there is a significant link with cancer in humans.

How do I avoid it?

Here is the FSA’s advice:

  • Go for Gold – as a general rule of thumb, aim for a golden yellow colour or lighter when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables and bread.
  • Check the pack – follow the cooking instructions carefully when frying or oven-heating packaged food products such as chips, roast potatoes and parsnips. The on-pack instructions are designed to cook the product correctly. This ensures that you aren’t cooking starchy foods for too long or at temperatures which are too high.
  • Eat a varied and balanced diet – while we can’t completely avoid risks like acrylamide in food, eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes basing meals on starchy carbohydrates and getting your 5 A Day will help reduce your risk of cancer.
  • Don’t keep raw potatoes in the fridge – if you intend to roast or fry them. Storing raw potatoes in the fridge can increase overall acrylamide levels. Raw potatoes should ideally be stored in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 6°C.

What is the risk?

Although the FSA advice has thrown a lot of people into a panic about burnt toast and their Sunday roast, it is important to keep things in perspective. Slightly browned roasted potatoes or a couple of slices of burnt toast are unlikely to cause a lot of harm over a lifetime, as long as you are eating a well balanced, healthy diet and not consuming vast amounts of these foods.

There has been an emphasis on acrylamide amongst food manufacturers, with levels in packaged foods dropping by 30% across all foods between 2007 and 2015.

Think about the sort of foods that have been identified as being a risk – chips, cakes, biscuits and burnt toast. We could do well to eat less of all of these a part of a healthy diet anyway, not just because of the levels of acrylamide.

Yes, reducing your consumption of burnt and fried foods may be a good idea to help reduce risk of cancer, but maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, increasing your fibre intake, eating a healthy balanced diet and keeping physically active are still the essentials.