Breakfast could be the most dangerous meal of the day

Burnt Toast

Eating burnt toast regularly could put your health at risk, according to a new report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Combine this news with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) recent classification of bacon and sausages as carcinogenic to humans and the classic British breakfast is looking like a dangerous meal option.

The FSA report found that cooking starch-rich foods such as potatoes, cereal grains and coffee beans at high temperatures produces a chemical called acrylamide.

Acrylamide is formed in a reaction between amino acids and sugars. This happens most often when high-starch foods are fried, roasted and baked at temperatures above 120°C.

The darker the toast, the higher the acrylamide

Levels of acrylamide in food will increase with cooking times and temperatures. So the darker the toast or fried potatoes, the more acrylamide you’ll be consuming.

Acrylamide has caused nerve damage in people who have been exposed to very high levels through industrial use. However, it is less clear what the risks are from the acrylamide found in food.

Acrylamide is considered to be a genotoxic carcinogen because it has the potential to cause cancer by interacting with the DNA in cells. Based on independent expert scientific advice, the FSA recommends that exposure to such chemicals should be “as low as is reasonably practicable”.

It highlights the importance of not over-cooking potatoes and toast. Bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable and fried potatoes cooked to a light golden colour.

Riskiest foods for infants

The impact of acrylamide differs according to the age group and body weight. The riskiest foods for infants are potato and cereal-based baby foods, while adults should watch their consumption of potato products, bread, coffee porridge, breakfast cereals, cakes and pastries, biscuits, crackers and crisp bread.

Also, be conscious of which oils and fats you use when cooking your breakfast. Oils and fats change their molecular composition when heated and produce substances called aldehydes, which can cause cancer and heart disease.

A recent study by scientists at the De Montfort University in Leicester found that cooking with sunflower and corn oil released higher levels of aldehydes.

Participants in the study cooked daily with vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, olive oil, cold-pressed rapeseed oil, goose fat, lard and butter. Any oil left over after cooking was retained for analysis.

20 times higher than the level prescribed by the WHO

The amount of aldehydes released by sunflower and corn oil was said to be 20 times higher than the level prescribed by the WHO.

The researchers used millimoles as a unit of measurement. Heating coconut oil at high temperatures for about half an hour released approximately half a millimole of toxins. Butter released over one millimole, while sunflower oil discharged more than five millimoles.

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