The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has highlighted a link between several types of starchy foods and cancer. The government body is keen to provoke a sea change in the way people cook, in an effort to minimise exposure to a harmful carcinogen called acrylamide. Produced when starchy foods are fried, grilled, baked or roasted for too long, acrylamide is a natural by-product of cooking, although it’s also present in tobacco smoke.
Browning is Blacklisted
Food scientists from the FSA are now urging us to carefully follow cooking instructions and avoid browning altogether. That goes for bread, chips, potatoes and other high-starch foods. The FSA have teamed up with ex-Olympian Denise Lewis to launch the ‘Go for Gold’ campaign, which recommends aiming for a golden-yellow colour when cooking. Boiling and steaming are also being advanced as workarounds.
Many of us will be hearing about acrylamide for the first time, which seems crazy considering the gravity of the news. However, acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Considering it shows up in cereals, bread, biscuits, crackers and coffee, that alone is troubling – especially since the FSA claims people in all age groups are already eating too much of it.
But the Food Industry is On the Case
Before panic sets in, it’s worth hearing the view of Helen Munday, chief scientific officer at the Food and Drink Federation; she says the food industry is well on top of things. “Although acrylamide can’t be completely eliminated in any kitchen, UK food manufacturers have been working with supply chain partners, regulators and other bodies – at home and abroad – to reduce its formation for a number of years.
“Manufacturers also provide clear instructions on-pack for consumers and catering customers to follow when cooking foods at home or in commercial kitchens.”
For their part, the FSA assure us they have been ‘undertaking surveillance’ on acrylamide since 2007 – and will continue to do so. “Although there is more to know about the true extent of the acrylamide risk, there is an important job for government, industry and others to do to help reduce acrylamide intake. Our Go for Gold campaign is part of the FSA’s wider work to reduce the level of acrylamide that people consume,” says Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy.
Other Cancer Risk Factors
Although animal research shows that acrylamide is toxic to DNA, causes cancer and plays havoc with the nervous and reproductive systems, Cancer Research UK have cautioned against undue alarm since the link has not yet been established in humans. Emma Shields, a health information officer with the charity, points to other, more established cancer risk factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol. “To be on the safe side,” she says, “people can reduce their exposure by…eating fewer high-calorie foods like crisps, chips and biscuits, which are major sources of acrylamide.”
Top Tip: Keep Potatoes Out of the Fridge
As part of their new campaign, the FSA are also warning against keeping raw potatoes and parsnips in the fridge, saying they should be stored in a cool, dark place that is above 6C. This is because sugar levels rise in the vegetables at low temperatures, potentially increasing the acrylamide produced during the cooking process.
As ever when such news comes to light, the FSA are underlining once more the benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Whether you hit your target by incorporating vegetables into main meals, snacking on fruit throughout the day, or using a nutrient-rich supplement in combination with cooked food, eating your greens is a surefire way of minimising your acrylamide intake.
If you want to learn more about acrylamide, the FSA have made a video which goes into greater detail about the potentially toxic chemical. You can watch it here.