Dr Panagiota Mitrou is Director of Research Funding & Science External Relations at World Cancer Research Fund.
You may have seen some headlines recently on how overcooking starchy foods, like toast, chips or roast potatoes, can increase your cancer risk. We wanted to look at the evidence, to see if we should dial back the toaster and rethink our roasties.
Research in animals
When starchy foods, like bread or potatoes, are cooked until they are a dark brown, a compound called acrylamide is formed. The Food Standards Agency in the UK has recently brought out some interesting guidelines that say we should avoid eating overcooked starchy foods – such as ‘burnt’ toast or really crispy roast potatoes – in order to reduce our cancer risk. These guidelines were brought out in response to a survey, which found the UK population is frequently eating many foods that contain acrylamide. Animal studies have shown a link between eating these overcooked foods that contain acrylamide and cancer risk, however, these studies were in animals. Have we found the same evidence in humans?
Research in humans
We funded some research into the link between acrylamide and cancer risk on a large study of people across Europe. Interestingly, this study didn’t find any strong evidence for a link between eating overcooked starchy foods that contain acrylamide and cancer risk in humans.
Confused? You’re not the only one! It is clear that there are some unanswered questions on this topic and more research needs to be done to fully understand the link between foods containing acrylamide, such as burnt toast, and cancer.
What we recommend
We know that more research is needed – but if you did want to reduce the level of acrylamide in your diet, the UK Food Standards Agency suggests that you aim for a golden yellow colour when baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, parsnips and bread.
While the debate continues as to whether we should be concerned about acrylamide, we do know that there are many other things you can do to reduce your cancer risk, such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and getting enough physical activity.
This means there are some simple steps that you can take to reduce your cancer risk, but as for burnt toast – the jury remains out.