December 8, 2022

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Than a Food Fitter

The simple cooking tricks that could slash your risk of disease

4 min read

IT may not just be what you eat, but how you prepare it, that drives your cancer risk.

Some experts argue that grilling or roasting food until it is slightly burnt is dangerous and you should instead aim for a “golden” colour.

Cooking food at lower temperatures is better for you, the Food Standard Agency says

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Cooking food at lower temperatures is better for you, the Food Standard Agency says

Although burnt food is usually an accident – such as a pizza left in for 10 minutes too long – many people prefer the taste of it when it comes to toast, meats and more.

When food is cooked at a high temperature, a natural by-product called acrylamide is produced.

Acrylamide may be carcinogenic, suggesting burnt toast, burnt chips, or anything else that’s a little on the blackened side may be linked to an increase in cancer.

The chemical is more likely to be produced with roasting, grilling, toasting and frying.

The Food Standard Agency warns: “Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals. 

“Scientists agree that acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans as well. 

“We recommend that the amount of acrylamide we all consume is reduced, as a precaution.”

The advice, which dates back to 2017, has been met with criticism, particularly because animal studies have used doses of acrylamide far higher than a human would have on any day. 

There is also a lack of information on how much acrylamide in a person’s diet is safe, and what the exact increase in risk of cancer is.

But other organisations – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency – have warned the chemical is a “probable” or “likely” human carcinogen.

We all like a portion of crispy chips or BBQ-ued sausages now and again.

And the FSA says you don’t have to throw away your roast potatoes on a Sunday just because they are a little too brown.

But if these sorts of foods are heavy in your diet, it may be worth considering some other cooking methods.

The FSA says “aim for a golden yellow colour or lighter when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods” and to always follow the packet instructions.

Healthline reports that to reduce your risk of carcinogens from high-heat cooking, try using healthier cooking methods such as:

  • baking or roasting at lower temperatures
  • slow cooking in a crock pot or slow cooker
  • poaching
  • pressure cooking

Diet is more important 

Cancer Research strongly argues there “isn’t enough good quality evidence” to prove the link between acrylamide and cancer.

It says instead that the foods you eat are more likely to play a role in disease risk, and – you guessed it – a healthy balanced diet is best.

“This is one with more fruits and vegetables and foods high in fibre, like brown varieties of bread, rice and pasta,” the leading charity says.

“A healthy diet is low in processed and red meat, and low in foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt.”

While it is unclear if burnt food is even linked to someone’s cancer risk, obesity causes thousands of cancer cases every year in the UK.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has a handy quiz that can reveal the odds of you developing cancer by looking at your diet and lifestyle habits.

While some risk factors of the disease are out of our control, like family history or simply bad luck, a large majority can be altered.

This includes your consumption of alcohol, red meat, and smoking.

Cutting back on these things may not stop you from getting cancer, but it could go a long way in reducing the chances.

The quiz asks about:

  • Smoking: The habit causes more than one in four cancer deaths
  • Weight: Being a healthy weight protects against 12 types of cancer
  • Exercise: Activity helps to ward off disease while keeping you a healthy weight
  • Fruit and veg: Not only does your five-a-day increase health, but it reduces the risk of cancer of the mouth and throat
  • Wholegrains: Eating more wholegrains can reduce your risk of bowel cancer and help you lose weight
  • Fatty and sugary food and drinks: Cutting out the sugar and fat will help you stay slim
  • Red and processed meat: These are both linked with bowel cancer
  • Alcohol: Booze is linked to at least six types of cancer, but can be enjoyed in moderation
  • Sun exposure: The main cause of almost all types of skin cancer
Eating burnt toast and foods cooked at high temperatures ‘may increase cancer risk’

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