Most of us like our toast and roast potatoes crisp and brown, but could overcooking starchy foods increase your risk of developing cancer? New guidelines recommend cooking starchy foods, such as bread and potatoes until they are golden to reduce the risk of consuming acrylamide, a chemical, which is believed to elevate cancer risk.
Acrylamide is formed when foods like potatoes are cooked for too long at a high temperature. Government food scientists believe that browning food can increase cancer risk, and have therefore advised the public to grill, fry and bake foods until they are golden rather than deep brown. The Food Standards Agency has issued guidelines recommending cooking starchy foods thoroughly without browning.
The new campaign launched by the FSA also recommends following cooking guidelines and avoiding storing potatoes and parsnips in the fridge. When you cook starchy foods, acrylamide is a natural by-product. However, levels have been shown to rise when starchy products are cooked at a high temperature for long periods of time. The browner a piece of toast, for example, the higher the level of acrylamide.
The guidelines are based on research, which has been carried out on animals. Trials show that the chemical has been linked to an increased risk of cancer; however, studies have not yet been undertaken on humans, and some experts are sceptical about the new advice.
Prof David Spiegelhalter, from Cambridge University, said that humans would have to consume considerable amounts of acrylamide to make a difference. The numbers suggest that humans would have to take in 160 times the normal level of the chemical to reach a stage where there would be a question of an increased risk of tumours, based on the studies that have been conducted using mice. He suggested that advice from the FSA may not be ‘appropriate.’