Should you avoid burnt toast and roast potatoes?

You may have seen or heard some news headlines this morning about a chemical called Acrylamide. I’ve had a look at the original research quoted, the Food Standard’s Agency website, the European Food Standards Agency as well as a blog by David Spiegelhalter and I thought I’d just clarify the situation for you.

Acrylamide is produced when food is cooked for long temperatures at temperatures higher than 120°C, including grilling, toasting, baking, frying, and roasting. It especially affects foods like potatoes or bread that are high in starch. Acrylamide is present in a large number of foods and it is virtually impossible to remove it completely from your diet.

The Food Standards Agency has today launched a campaign to encourage people to reduce their intake of Acrylamide which has been found to damage DNA and cause cancer in animal studies, however evidence from human studies is limited and inconclusive. This is key.

There is no evidence at present to link the consumption of Acrylamide with humans developing cancer.

The Food Standards Agency thinks there is enough potential of harm to encourage a reduction. Especially in children as they are particularly susceptible to having proportionally larger amounts due to their body weight and preference for starchy foods. You may see the following logo:

Gold medal icon

The Food Standards Agency advice is:

  • 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 –aim to meet your 5 a day target of vegetables and fruit, increase fibre intake, have a good variety of food , try to reduce your intake of fried food and red or processed meat
  • 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.

This advice is fairly easy to follow and eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer independently of Acrymalide.

My advice is: don’t be too worried! There is no firm evidence that links humans eating acrylamide with cancer, despite a lot of studies which have investigated the subject. If you have burnt toast or well done roast potatoes occasionally it is unlikely that it will be a problem.

If you have got any other concerns, contact your GP or local friendly dietitian 🙂

References / Further reading

https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2017/15890/families-urged-to-go-for-gold-to-reduce-acrylamide-consumption

https://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/chemical-safety-research/env-cont/fs102081

https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/acrylamide

https://wintoncentre.maths.cam.ac.uk/news/how-dangerous-burnt-toast

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4104/pdf

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