Browned Toast, Potatoes May Raise Cancer Odds

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 23, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 23, 2017 – Toast and potatoes should be cooked to a golden color, not browned, to reduce our intake of a chemical that may increase the chance of having cancer, say U.K. government scientists.

Acrylamide is not deliberately added to food. It is a natural byproduct of the cooking process.

"Acrylamide is a natural chemical which is formed when you heat certain food, such as starchy foods like potatoes and root vegetables,” says professor Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser to the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency.

"When they're cooked to above 120 degrees they naturally form acrylamide.”

Some potato chips, cakes, cookies, cereals, and coffee also have high levels of acrylamide.

Studies in rats have linked acrylamide exposure to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Evidence from human studies is incomplete, but the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider acrylamide to be a “probably human carcinogen.”

"The levels of acrylamide that are present in our diet are higher than we would be comfortable with,” says Diane Benford, head of risk assessment at the Food Standards Agency. "We would prefer them to be lower … that's why the Food Standards Agencyis encouraging industry to try to reduce acrylamide levels in processed foods. And we wish to raise awareness among consumers of the things they could do to help reduce their exposure to acrylamide in food."

The FSA says there are some easy steps that people can take when cooking at home to reduce acrylamide:

  • Go for gold. As a general rule of thumb, aim for a golden yellow color or lighter when frying, baking, toasting, or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables, and bread.
  • Check the package. Follow the cooking instructions carefully when frying or oven-heating packaged food products such as french fries, roasted potatoes, and parsnips to avoid overcooking.
  • Don't keep raw potatoes in the fridge if you intend to roast or fry them. Refrigerating raw potatoes can increase overall acrylamide levels. Raw potatoes should ideally be stored in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 42 F.
  • Eat a varied and balanced diet. While we can’t do away with risks like acrylamide in food, eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily will help reduce your chance of having cancer.

The Food Standards Agency says its own research suggests that most people have never heard of acrylamide and may be unaware why they should consider reducing it.

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U.K Food Standards Agency (FSA)

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