The British Food Standards Agency issued a new warning recently, stating that toast and other fried food items release a dangerous chemical called acrylamide, which is a known cause of cancerous growths. There is considerable concern in the world as a result of the new revelation, but is there really reason to panic?
According to the agency, it conducted tests with food items from fifty different households. They checked for acrylamide and discovered worrying results: In toast, even when it wasn't particularly dark, they found 9 micrograms of acrylamide for every kilogram of toast. However as the toast was brought to a darker color the amount of micrograms of acrylamide increased sharply and in very dark toast there were 167 grams of acrylamide per kg. In chips the results were much more disturbing: Scientists found 1052 micrograms of acrylamide per kilogram of chips. Besides chips, acrylamides were found in high levels in pancakes, doughnuts and in coffee.
Acrylamide is an additive which results from cooking starchy foods at high temperatures and particularly when they are cooked, baked or fried at above 248F (120 C) For this reason, foods which go through a process of frying, cooking or other high temperature processes will contain high levels of acrylamide. The same occurs to food which is processed on a grill.
Professor Micha Bar Chana of the Faculty for Public Health in Haifa University, explained in an interview with the Israeli site Ynet that “Repeated and continuous consumption of certain foods can definitely cause cancer. There is evidence in research of a link between nutrition and cancer. One of the most conclusive studies demonstrated that stomach cancer levels increased significantly among Japanese people who emigrated to the U.S.A.
In fact there are a number of published studies which discussed the connection between acrylamide levels and cancer. It was already noted that high levels of cancer exist among those who ate fried or cooked foods which release large amounts of acrylamide.
So what is the recommendation for those who want to maintain their health and still maintain a normal diet and eat what they love? The first recommendation is to limit the cooking time or to eat less, says Dr. Itai Gal.
Moreover the chief scientific advisor to the British Food Standards Agency, which prepared the original report, says that “many foods from different types of groups have a potential of releasing acrylamide during cooking, and it is therefore recommended not to roast or to cook the food at high temperatures for extended periods of time in order to reduce the amount of acrylamide released”.
If you feel that these findings are causing you to panic, Professor Bar Chana advises to stay calm. He says that it is most important to combine healthy and natural foods in one's diet and to remember that the discussion is about long-term effects over many years. “There is no reason to panic” he claims. “Eating chips or fried foods or hamburgers three times a week or every day is definitely not good for one's health, period. But as long as one's diet includes fruits, vegetables and sometimes steak and chips, it should not have a significant influence on one's health. Studies will show in the future as well that there are carcinogens in food but it is all a question of amount and balanced diet. One should remember that cancer is not something that develops overnight but is a long process which can take 10 or 20 years to develop.”
“It was always recommended to eat foods as close as possible to their natural state” adds Professor Ruth Burke, the Dean of the Health Sciences department at Ariel University. “That is the healthiest and most recommended diet with as few as possible artificial additives. But in general one can say that it all depends on the amount and levels of concentration in foods. In the world of nutrition we always hear about eating a varied diet, as close as possible to the original state of the food and one which includes fruits and vegetables and less processed foods”.
Professor Burke concludes that before you run to implement all the numerous recommendations that you have heard, you must listen to all the regular recommendations from the Health Ministry. “One shouldn't get hysteric about every study or report which is published”, she adds. “It is important to read research, but one must implement its conclusions in a controlled manner. It is therefore worth waiting for the recommendations of the Health Ministry or some recognized health organization, and in the meantime adopting the old advice about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes physical exercise and a balanced diet”.