The new warning issued by The Food Standard Agency (FSA) was on mostly everyone’s lips on Monday with the news headlining that browned toasts and potatoes are ‘potential cancer risks’ according to food scientists.
The FSA launched a campaign about the health implication of acrylamide; a chemical compound produced when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. Their new campaign encourages families to ‘Go for Gold’ in which they should aim for a golden yellow colour when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy goods such as potatoes, root vegetables and bread.
The link between acrylamide and cancer
Acrylamide is naturally produced when foods high in starch are cooked above 120°C. It can be found in potatoes, chips, crisps, bread and cereal products.
The National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer outline acrylamide as ‘probable human carcinogenic’ (cancer-causing), based on studies in lab animals giving drinking water with acrylamide.
Early studies using rodent models demonstrated that rodents who were exposed to high levels of acrylamide developed cancer. Although findings from animal studies cannot be generalised to humans and it is currently unclear whether humans posses the same risk, there is a likelihood that regular consumption of acrylamide-rich food can advance risk.
FSA’s advice to the public
The FSA have collaborated with Olympic Gold medalist, Denise Lewis, to inspire people to make small changes to reduce acrylamide consumption in their home, which include:
• Go for Gold – 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 – Carefully following cooking instructions 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 – 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.
Is there a need to panic?
It is no surprise that the FSA warning has made some people very concerned about their health and dietary intake. Slightly overdoing your roast potatoes or having the one-off burnt toast will not do you harm. Such warning given can be deemed as an exaggeration but it does in someway reinforce healthy eating and cooking healthier to reduce risk of cancer. Having said this, avoiding acrylamide-rich containing foods may be beneficial in reducing cancer risk but people should not neglect that maintaining a healthy weight, increasing your physical activity and eating a healthy and balanced diet is also essential.