Health officials have warned that roasting and frying starchy foods could increase the risk of cancer. Health experts advise cooking to ‘golden brown’ rather than letting food burn.
Higher cooking temperatures can create chemical reactions among amino acids, creatines and sugars reactions that may produce dangerous compounds that can damage our DNA.
Some of the most notable end products are heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, advanced glycation end products and acrylamide.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a public health warning over the risks of acrylamide, a chemical compound that forms in some foods when they are cooked at temperatures above 120 0C.
Acrylamide forms due to a chemical reaction between certain sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) in the food.
Acrylamide is found in high levels in a range of foods including breakfast cereals (not porridge), chips, potato products (such as waffles or children’s potato shapes), biscuits, crackers, crispbread and crisps.
It is also found in coffee, cooked pizza bases, black olives and cereal-based baby foods.
Root vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, turnip, swede and parsnips can all carry high levels of the compound once they have been roasted or fried until darker brown or crispy. As well as high temperatures, long cooking times can increase levels of acrylamide even further.
Foods such as skinny fries and crisps appear to have the highest levels.
The FSA also says potatoes should not be kept in the fridge because sugar levels in the potatoes rise at low temperatures, potentially increasing the amount of acrylamide produced during cooking.
Research in animals has shown that the chemical is toxic to DNA and causes cancer, so scientists assume the same is true in people, although as yet there is no conclusive evidence.
The possible effects of acrylamide exposure include an increased lifetime risk of cancer and effects on the nervous and reproductive systems.
But whether or not acrylamide causes these effects in humans depends upon the level of exposure.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends carefully following cooking instructions and avoiding browning.