Recent research by the British Food Standards Agency has indicated that acrylamide, a chemical which is produced when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, could increase the risk of cancer. The research applies to a range of foods, including bread, biscuits, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables.
Experts are advising consumers to avoid eating overcooked starchy foods, like burnt toast and suggesting that shoppers avoid unhealthy snacks that contain high levels of acrylamide.
What’s the risk?
Acrylamide, the chemical which is produced when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, hasn’t been conclusively proven to cause cancer in humans but has been shown to cause cancer in animals.
It’s likely that similar effects will occur in humans, and the current scientific consensus is that reducing the levels of acrylamide in the diet is a good way to reduce your health risk.
It’s impossible to completely avoid acrylamide, but following cooking instructions carefully and avoiding certain foods are simple ways to reduce your intake.
Which foods are affected?
Acrylamide can be found in a wide range of starchy foods. As well as the obvious culprits, bread, and potatoes, varying levels of acrylamide are also found in crisps, biscuits, breakfast cereals, crackers, coffee and baby foods.
Higher levels of acrylamide are found in the browned or burnt areas of cooked foods, which is why experts are suggesting you ‘go for gold’ when making toast, aiming for a slice which is lightly browned but not blackened or burnt.
What can you do?
Lowering the levels of acrylamide in your diet is relatively simple, which is why the issue has been highlighted by the FSA. Many of the products which contain the highest levels of acrylamide, like crisps and biscuits, are already unhealthy when consumed in large amounts. By aiming to follow a healthy, balanced diet, you’re already on the way to keeping your acrylamide consumption low.
Boiling, steaming and microwaving are all ideal cooking methods if you want to reduce browning and lower the levels of acrylamide in your finished dish. You don’t have to avoid frying or roasting altogether, but should keep a close eye on food and remove items from the heat as soon as they’re cooked, rather than allowing them a longer time to brown.
If you often cook with raw potatoes, then storing them in a dark, cool place instead of in the fridge reduces how much acrylamide is produced when they’re cooked.
While research shows that acrylamide may increase cancer risk, it’s easy to limit the amount you consume. Avoid unhealthy snacks like crisps and biscuits, and remember not to overcook starchy foods.