Is eating burned food bad for you? It could be.
Growing up in my house, eating burned food was par for the course. Even if you burned your toast, for example, it had to be consumed; otherwise it was considered terribly wasteful. “Heaven forbid should you throw that bread out. Don’t you know there are starving children in Africa?” my mother would say. And so I would finish every last bite of my burned toast, or charred pizza, or singed French fries (yeah, I was a little absent-minded when it came to remembering my food in the toaster oven.)
But now, there’s evidence that suggests that eating all that burned food could actually be bad for you. Back in 2007, a Dutch study was done that showed an increased risk of cancer in women who were exposed to the chemical acrylamide — which forms on fried or baked foods, especially when those foods are burned. The study found that women who ate 40 micrograms of acrylamide a day (equivalent to say, a bag of potato chips) had double the cancer risk of women who ate the lowest amount of the chemical.
So what is this chemical acrylamide anyway? Acrylamide is a chemical that is can be used in the manufacturing of paper and plastic, and is often found in products like caulk and food packaging. Alarmingly, though, acrylamide is also found in certain foods that have been prepared at a very high temperature — i.e. food that was fried, grilled or broiled. It’s found more in starchy products like bread and potatoes. How come? An amino acid called asparagine found in these foods forms acrylamide when heated at a very high temperature.
Another concern is the HCAs (heterocyclic amines) that form on chicken and meat when grilled over a high flame. HCAs have also been linked to cancer in animals, though research in humans is still limited.
It should be noted that the FDA does not regulate the amount of HCAs or acrylamide in food, so it is up to you to lessen your exposure.
So no more French fries, you say? Ever? (Gulp.) Well, you don’t necessarily need to cut them out altogether, but there is research that suggests that eating home-cooked food in general will help you consume less acrylamide than eating processed food. Shocker! Fast food isn’t the best thing for you!
Other things you can do to reduce your exposure? Cook things like potatoes to a light golden color as opposed to a toasty brown. Same goes for toast. You can also wash or soak vegetables before cooking them because this may reduce the amount of acrylamide that forms during cooking.
To reduce the amount of HCA exposure, you can eat less grilled meat, or take off the skin of things like chicken before eating, which was found to have much higher amounts of HCA than the chicken itself.
Bottom line, folks? It won’t be long until we find out that there are potentially toxic ingredients in almost everything we consume. The best thing you can do is eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.