British scientists warn us: “Bread, chips and potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow color, rather than brown, to reduce our intake of a chemical which could cause cancer.
A dangerous substance, known as acrylamide, is produced when starchy foods are roasted, fried or grilled for too long at high temperatures.
The same substance is produced when one smokes. Smoking exposes people to 3-4 times more acrylamide than non-smokers, because the chemical is present in tobacco smoke.
People who work in certain industries (particularly in the paper and pulp, construction, foundry, oil drilling, textiles, cosmetics, food processing, plastics, mining, and agriculture) may be exposed to acrylamide in the workplace, mainly through skin contact or by breathing it in.
The possible effects of acrylamide exposure include an increased lifetime risk of cancer and effects on the nervous and reproductive systems.
What do expert agencies say?
Several national and international agencies study substances in the environment to determine if they can cause cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and classifies acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen” based on data showing it can increase the risk of some types of cancer in lab animals.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP), which was formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has classified acrylamide as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” based on the studies in lab animals.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies acrylamide as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” based on studies in lab animals.
The highest levels of this substance are found in foods with high starch content, which have been cooked above 120C (or 250F), such as crisps, bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, crackers, cakes and coffee (as a result of the roasted beans).
It can also be produced during home cooking, when high-starch foods – such as potatoes, chips, bread and parsnips – are baked, roasted, toasted, grilled or fried at high temperatures.
The darker the color of the toast, the more acrylamide is present.
During the browning process, the sugar, amino acids and water present in the bread combine to create color and acrylamide – as well as flavor and aromas.
To minimize the formation of this substance:
- Go for a golden yellow color when toasting, frying, baking, or roasting starchy foods such as potatoes, bread and root vegetables
- Don’t keep raw potatoes and parsnips in the fridge – store them in a cool, dark place above 6C (43F) instead, because sugar levels rise in vegetables at low temperatures, potentially increasing the amount of acrylamide produced during cooking
- Follow cooking instructions carefully when heating chips, pizzas, roasting potatoes and parsnips in the oven or toaster appliances
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes 5 portions of vegetables and fruit per day
- Roasting potato in pieces causes less acrylamide formation, followed by baking whole potatoes. Boiling potatoes and microwaving whole potatoes with the skin on does not create acrylamide. Soaking raw potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes before frying or roasting helps reduce acrylamide formation during cooking. (Soaked potatoes should be drained and blotted dry before cooking to prevent splattering or fires)
For more information on healthy living, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000 or at www.newtowninternalmedicine.com.
1) Browned toast and potatoes are ‘potential cancer risk’, say food scientists. BBC January 23, 2017
2) Acrylamide and Cancer Risk. Cancer.org. Last accessed on January 23, 2017