It’s not just toast that the study called out, also coffee, fries, and baked goods.(Stocksy)
A new scientific report issued by the British government’s food safety watchdog has a shocking conclusion: Eating too much toast may increase your risk of developing cancer.
The Food Standards Agency, which issued the report, blames the link on acrylamide, a toxin that is formed when carbohydrates are subject to high temperatures.
“Regularly eating foods high in acrylamide can increase the risk of cancer,” the paper states.
But it’s not just toast that is a potential problem: The Food Standards Agency says acrylamide is also found in coffee, fries, and baked goods.
Acrylamide is a natural by-product of the cooking process and is formed when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures (above 248 degrees), the paper says. Foods are likely to have more acrylamide when they’re cooking for longer durations at higher temperatures and the chemical is also likely to be produced when foods are grilled or roasted.
For their research, the Food Standards Agency took food samples from 50 households and measured their acrylamide levels in a lab. Among their findings: the palest piece of toast contained nine micrograms per kilogram of acrylamide, while the darkest piece had 167. Fries were even worse, containing up to 1,052 micrograms per kilogram of acrylamide.
“Many foods and food groups have the potential to form acrylamide on cooking,” Guy Poppy, chief scientific advisor to the Food Standards Agency, who wrote the paper, tells Yahoo Health. “You should not roast at too high a temperature or for too long to keep the levels lower.”
The news comes less than a month after the World Health Organization issued a controversial report that concluded that processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and ham cause cancer.
But Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic is a little skeptical about the link between seemingly innocuous foods like toast and cancer. “We don’t really know that this causes cancer,” he tells Yahoo Health. “There are things out there that we’re far more aware of, like smoking and obesity.”
Shepard points out that there’s a potential risk that eating foods that contain acrylamide can cause cancer, but studies haven’t yet proven it. “What we know is this: If you take cells and you put this compound with the cells, it has the ability to change DNA,” he says. “What we don’t know is whether that happens in people, since our bodies have the ability to get rid of toxins.”
Andrew Chan, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health has a similar take. “There are probable carcinogens in our environment at various levels and, for the most part, the levels of those carcinogens are so small that it’s difficult to be able to attribute any real sense of cancer risk to them,” he tells Yahoo Health. “In theory, it’s possible that there could be some increase in risk, but I think it’s very early to know whether some routine cooking practices are going to be able to increase someone’s risk of cancer.”
Since acrylamide surfaces as a result of cooking or burning food, Shepard notes that this isn’t anything new: It’s something we’ve been dealing with since we started using fire to cook food.
However, he says, we can minimize our risk by limiting the amount of starchy, high-sugar foods we eat and avoiding burnt food.
New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health that you can also work more cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables into your diet, and opting to boil or steam food rather than baking, broiling, frying, or roasting it. “I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid toast entirely, but maybe mix things up throughout the week rather than having it every day,” she says.
Poppy echoes the sentiment, saying that people don’t need to avoid toast, roasted potatoes, and other acrylamide-containing foods altogether, but they should try to limit how much of these foods they eat: “Consuming a mixed, balanced nutritious diet is the best advice — nothing too much in excess, and not causing too much browning of food before you consume the food.”