Is It Healthy To Eat Burned Food?
Are burnt toast and chips really carcinogenic?
Burnt toast, fries that have been fried too long and fried potatoes have long been suspected of causing cancer. This week the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched the Go for Gold campaign, which encourages people to aim for a more golden color when cooking or frying starchy foods. The Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety also advises on its website to "gold plating instead of charring" in order to absorb as little as possible of the dangerous chemical acrylamide.
This occurs primarily when frying, baking and roasting starchy foods at around 120 degrees. Past studies have shown that the acrylamide can cause cancer in living tissue. Based on a study from 1993, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified acrylamide as "probably carcinogenic to humans". The official assessment of the FSA sounds like this: "Acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans."
In an interview with WIRED, the FSA said that it had been warning consumers about acrylamide "for a long time", but still wanted to reiterate its position this week. The reason for this is the Total Diet Study, which comes to the conclusion that British consumers "consume more acrylamide than would be desirable". But is acrylamide really as dangerous as the headlines suggest?
In order to research how a substance affects the organism, scientists first develop animal models. To do this, a specific active ingredient is tested to determine whether it increases the likelihood of cancer in a specific animal. Mice are typically used for acrylamide studies, which poses a number of difficulties.
"The dose given to animals is often not representative of the doses that humans typically ingest," said Paul Pharaoh, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge. “It is also quite possible that humans react very differently to the same chemical than animals. You have to be very careful when interpreting the data from animal experiments and transferring them to humans. "
The European Food Safety Authority recognizes this. A press release from 2015 states about the risks of acrylamide: "Findings from animal studies show that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic, ie they damage DNA and cause cancer." However, she also concludes: "Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure causes acrylamide cancer in humans are currently limited and inconclusive. "
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