Does Browned Toast Give You Cancer? Well…
With experts offering different opinions on acrylamide, we’re in play it safe territory
Nothing spoils a slice of toast faster than opening up the newspaper to find out your favoured buttered breakfast food could give you cancer.
Scientists from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), an independent government body, have been causing people to cast suspicious looks at breakfasts up and down the land with their warning that toast and potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow colour, rather than browned, to reduce our intake of a chemical that could cause cancer.
When starchy foods are roasted, fried or grilled, acrylamide is produced as a by-product of the cooking process.
The FSA’s Go For Gold campaign aims to highlight the potential dangers of acrylamide. However, although research has shown that high levels of acrylamide are toxic and cause cancer in animals, there is no conclusive evidence that the same is true in humans.
Fans of brown toast and crispy potatoes can also take heart from the response to the FSA warning that has come from experts in the scientific community.
David Spiegelhalter, Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University, said that the level of acrylamide consumed by humans was well below the amount that caused cancer in research on animals.
“Adults with the highest consumption of acrylamide could consume 160 times as much and still only be at a level that toxicologists think unlikely to cause increased tumours in mice,” he wrote in a post on medium.com.
On their website, Cancer Research UK have this to say regarding the risks of acrylamide:
“Evidence from human studies has shown that, for most cancer types, there is no link between acrylamide and cancer risk. Some studies have suggested a higher risk of womb cancer, but the evidence is weak and inconsistent, so we can’t be sure if this link is real. Even food industry workers, who are exposed to twice as much acrylamide as other people, do not have higher rates of cancer.”
So compared to established cancer risk-factors – like smoking, boozing and obesity – there’s probably not a great deal to fear at the moment regarding the risks of acrylamide. Still, if you’d prefer to play it safe – this is a public health body after all – here’s 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 we can say for sure is that you adopt this advice, there’s no down side.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.