mulberry purses cheap Can eating burnt toast give you cancer
Toaster technology is a bit like weather forecasting not quite as good as we’d like it to be. So unless you’ve got a state of the art appliance (and maybe even then) you’re likely to end up with the odd blackened slice.
But could those of us who eat burnt toast be giving ourselves cancer?
No one has ever investigated whether people who eat a lot of burnt toast have higher cancer rates. And lab rats have never been fed burnt toast to see whether it causes tumours, Brent says.
But there are chemicals in burnt toast that have been linked with cancers in both animals and humans. So it’s certainly not the healthiest snack and is probably better avoided.
Acrylamide riskThe most well known chemical in burnt toast is acrylamide, which is produced when sugars and certain amino acids the building blocks of proteins are heated together during the cooking process.
This potentially harmful chemical is mainly found in starchy foods such as potatoes (and other potato products), along with baked goods, including bread and, of course, toast.
The level of acrylamide in these foods increases with higher cooking temperatures and longer cooking times. “You would expect there to be reasonably high levels of acrylamide in burnt toast,” says Brent.
While toast contains less acrylamide than potato chips and fries, work by FSANZ in 2004 found that toasted white bread is one of the main food sources of acrylamide in the Australian population. This is because we eat more white bread than brown, but white bread might also have slightly more acrylamide in it than other types of bread.
Acrylamide is also used in many industrial processes (paper and plastic production for instance) and at high levels of exposure, it is known to be toxic to the nervous systems of animals and humans.
But acrylamide in food would be unlikely to reach the kind of high levels that industrial workers have sometimes been exposed to, says Brent.
Cancer conundrumThe evidence relating to cancer risk is less clear cut though.
“There is no evidence from human studies to link acrylamide exposure to increased cancer incidence but there is some evidence in animals to suggest such a link. So the possibility cannot be eliminated,” says Brent.
Some rats given acrylamide form tumours in their hormonal tissues such as the reproductive organs. But even factory workers exposed to very high levels of acrylamide don’t have higher rates of cancer than the general population.
Some studies have linked acrylamide with higher rates of breast and ovarian cancer in women, but Brent says these studies were preliminary.
“When you’re looking at levels of acrylamide and you relate that to a cancer, you might find an association but then a lot more work has to be done to prove a causal link.”
says Brent, is that the level of acrylamide we consume through food is fairly high compared to other food contaminants.
What’s more it is also only hundreds of times smaller than the level that causes cancer in rats. The larger the gap between what we consume and the level that causes cancer in animals the better.
“The jury is still out but most people are taking a fairly cautious approach,” says Brent.
An expert committee on food additives, set up jointly by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, for instance, is calling for a reduction of acrylamide levels in food despite the need for more research. FSANZ supports this.
The food industry is exploring methods to do this without reducing desirability and taste, including using lower cooking temperatures and adding chemicals called enzymes to reduce the amount of acrylamide that forms during cooking.
No ‘safe level’ has been established as yet though, says Brent. But this could happen as the science progresses.
Cautious approach bestIf you see smoke streaming from the toaster, acrylamide isn’t your only concern.
Burnt toast also contains small amounts of polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), better known as a class of air pollutant. “Some of those chemicals are proven carcinogens [chemicals that cause or aggravate cancers],” says Brent.
The most well known of these is benzopyrene also found in coal tar and cigarette smoke. Produced when organic matter is inefficiently burnt, it triggers chemical changes in cells that can result in damage to DNA, which in turn can cause cancer.
While the level at which PAHs are carcinogenic is much higher than most people would consume through eating burnt food such as toast, the safest approach is to avoid exposing yourself to these chemicals if you can.
Brent’s advice is to toast bread to the lowest acceptable level. And if you want to be really cautious, cut off the crusts as these usually contain more acrylamide from when the bread was baked.
What if you’re distracted from the task (or your whizz bang toaster lets you down)? Don’t be tempted to eat the charred toast. And while it might feel wasteful,
don’t try to salvage it either.