Is having that crispy piece of toast for breakfast the riskiest thing you’ve done the entire day?
No, not the bread (although starting off your day with a carbo bomb isn’t the best idea). I’m talking about a substance that forms on carbohydrates during cooking at high temps, called acrylamide.
It seems that every few years, a health agency will issue a warning about how this chemical could raise our risk of cancer. Safety experts have known about the dangers of this substance for a long time. The U.S. National Toxicology program has it listed as “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer in humans — right alongside things such as lead, ultraviolet radiation and chloroform!
But in the end, nothing has been done to protect us. Acrylamide is still there, on plenty of foods we eat every single day.
Since the FDA (or any other regulatory agency) isn’t lifting a finger to lessen our risk, there are some simple things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Go for the gold
The latest warning about acrylamide — a full two years after the FDA’s — is coming from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA released a statement about how in animal studies, the chemical has been found to cause cancer — but that’s not even the scary part.
What should really frighten you is that it forms on all varieties of starchy foods, both fresh and processed that are crispy, crunchy, toasted, baked, and fried. For example, things like potatoes, parsnips, cake, cookies, pretzels, and bread.
The UK agency even issued a video of its chief scientific advisor telling how the chemical naturally forms when starchy foods are prepared at typical cooking temperatures.
But if this agency is anything like our FDA, that will be it.
A couple of years ago the FDA issued guidelines for the food industry on the chemical — one that’s non-binding. What that means is that, in reality, manufacturers don’t have to do a darn thing to get the levels of this carcinogen down, even though they could.
And because acrylamide isn’t used as an ingredient in foods, but rather, forms as a byproduct of cooking and manufacturing you won’t find it listed on any labels.
As you might have guessed, food manufacturers are up in arms about the fact that acrylamide has hit the news again — pointing out that there are lots of other ways to lower our cancer risk.
Why are we picking on cancer-causing chemicals in potatoes, they wonder, when consumers should be worried about smoking, drinking, and obesity?
No matter how Big Food tries to twist things, however, the bottom line is that acrylamide probably can trigger cancer in people just as it does in laboratory animals. And anything you can do to lower how much of it you ingest is a very good idea!
Luckily, we don’t have to depend on the FDA to protect us. We can take matters into our own hands by reducing the levels of this chemical in our diet.
#1 “Go for the gold”: Perhaps the best advice issued from the FSA is to cook starchy foods to a golden color rather than to toasty brown. Possibly the worst offenders are French fries and potato chips — and that’s where the FDA could have stepped in and set a maximum allowable amount of the chemical in processed foods (but didn’t). Also remember to turn down your toaster setting so your toast doesn’t go beyond a light brown color.
#2 Boil instead of roast: Boiling (with the skin on) is a much safer way to make potatoes. If you plan to roast or fry any spuds, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before you cook them.
#3 Reducing acrylamide with rosemary: Acrylamide can also form during the baking process of bread. Studies in Denmark, however, have found that adding the herb rosemary to your dough will significantly lower levels of the chemical (and it smells great!). While using the herb to reduce acrylamide in potatoes doesn’t appear to have been studied, the combo is delicious, and it may very well have the same results as in bread.
#4 Cold cereal hazards: Yes, even those toasted cold cereals contain a dose of this chemical. Your best cereal bet in the morning looks to be a bowl of good old-fashioned oatmeal!
“Now baby food and biscuits are linked to cancer” Sean Poulter, January 23, 2017, Daily Mail, dailymail.co.uk