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Overcooked food: What do experts say we should not eat?

Health experts warn not to overcook starchy foods Credit: PA

Health experts have warned that overcooking foods such as toast, roast potatoes, chips and vegetables can lead to cancer.

The Food Standards Agency says that starchy foods cooked at high temperatures for too long form acrylamide - a compound thought to be carcinogenic.

We all know that burnt food isn't good for you - so what do the experts say we shouldn't eat now?

  • Acrylamide. What is it?
Potatoes and bread contain the compound acrylamide Credit: PA

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that proliferates in starchy foods when they are cooked at high temperatures.

It forms due to a chemical reaction between certain sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) in the food.

Experts believe acrylamide is carcinogenic to humans - meaning it can cause cancer.

Starchy foods which are most likely to contain acrylamide include the following:

  • Breakfast cereals (but not porridge)
  • Cereal-based baby foods
  • Chips
  • Potato waffles
  • Biscuits
  • Crackers
  • Crisps
  • Crispbread
  • Cooked pizza bases
  • Root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, turnip, swede and parsnips

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  • What are the cooking risks?

As well as cooking at temperatures above 120C, long cooking times can increase levels of acrylamide even further.

Experts have cited roasting, frying, baking, grilling and toasting as all heightening the cancer risk.

That means dark crunchy toast, roasted fluffy roast potatoes and crispy root vegetables with your Sunday dinner - turnips, parsnips and swede for example - are all affected.

In simple terms: the darker and more well-done you cook these foods, the greater the risk.

  • What advice do experts give?
Experts say boiling and steaming are healthier

As ever, the public is encouraged to stick to a varied, balanced diet to reduce the overall risk of cancer.

Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said: "We are not saying people should worry about the occasional meal ... this is about managing risk over a lifetime.

"Anything you can do to reduce your exposure will reduce your lifetime risk."

The official FSA advice is as follows:

  • Aim for a golden yellow colour or lighter when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables and bread.
  • Follow cooking instructions when frying or oven-heating packaged food products such as chips, roast potatoes and parsnips.
  • Eat a varied and balanced diet – including basing meals on starchy carbohydrates and your five-a-day.
  • Don't keep raw potatoes in the fridge if you intend to roast or fry them.
  • Raw potatoes should ideally be stored in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 6°C.

More specific advice includes:

  • Boiling, steaming and microwaving are far healthier.
  • Cut down on consumption of crispy roasted potatoes.
  • Avoid "fluffing up" roast potatoes to maximise dark brown crispy bits
  • Toast should should be browned to a light brown colour.
  • Favour chunky chips on occasion rather than fries.
  • Cut potatoes into larger wedges (crinkle-cut chips are worse than normal chips as they have a larger surface area).