Can eating burnt foods cause cancer?

  •  Eating foods high in acrylamide, like toast, charred root vegetables or roast potatoes will not increase your risk of cancer         
  • Acrylamide can be found in starchy food that’s been cooked at high temperatures.         
  • Your overall diet (what you eat day to day) is more important than individual foods for reducing your cancer risk.  

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical that’s found in starchy foods like bread and potatoes, if they’re cooked at high temperatures for a long time.

This includes baking, barbequing, frying, grilling, toasting, or roasting.

You can also find it in other foods such as biscuits and coffee.

 

Do acrylamide or burnt foods cause cancer?

No. Acrylamide from burnt toast, burnt chips, or crispy potatoes is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer.

 You might’ve read about a possible link between acrylamide and cancer. But there isn’t enough good quality evidence to show this. For example, some studies aren’t able to accurately measure the amount of acrylamide in people’s diets.

Good quality studies have not shown that acrylamide from food causes cancer in humans.

But there are other things you can do to reduce your risk, such as eating a healthy balanced diet. This is one with more fruits and vegetables and foods high in fibre, like brown varieties of bread, rice and pasta. A healthy diet is low in processed and red meat, and low in foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt.

You don’t need to avoid acrylamide to have a healthy, balanced diet. But some foods with acrylamide are high in calories, so can make it harder to keep a healthy weight.

 

Does eating burnt meat, including bacon, cause cancer?

How you cook meat like bacon and how crispy you make it does not affect your cancer risk.

But bacon itself is processed meat. And eating processed meat, no matter how it’s cooked, increases the risk of bowel cancer.

So it’s a good idea to cut down on how much processed meat you eat. Find out more about processed and red meat and cancer risk.

 

 

We regularly review new research on the causes of cancer to make sure our information is up to date and based on the best quality evidence. We develop our information by looking at lots of research carried out over many years. So, although new research comes out all the time, it is unlikely that one new study would change our position on a topic.  

Some studies are better than others at telling us about how different factors affect cancer risk. These are some of the things we consider:

  • Did the study look at cells, animals or people?

Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand how cancer works, but they can’t always tell us how it’s relevant to humans. So we focus on studies in people.

  • How big is the study and how long did it go on for?

Studies on small numbers of people aren’t as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short amount of time can miss long-term effects. So we mainly look at studies that follow thousands of people over many years.

  • Did the study account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk?

There are lots of factors that can affect someone’s risk of cancer. Studies should take known risk factors into account. For example, if a study is looking at air pollution and lung cancer, it should also look at whether participants smoked.

  • Where is the study published and who funded it?

It’s important to see if a study is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means that other experts have checked the results. It’s also important to know who funded the study, as this can affect the findings. For example, Cancer Research UK disregards research funded by the tobacco industry.

How to find accurate information on cancer

Sometimes news outlets exaggerate stories about cancer. It’s helpful to think about some of the questions above to judge a news story. But the most important thing is to get information from a trusted source– for example our website and the NHS.

One way of knowing if you can trust health information is by checking if the Patient Information Forum (PIF) has accredited it. The PIF makes sure that information is based on up to date evidence and is high quality.

The Patient Information Forum tick looks like this.

Patient Information Tick

You can read more about spotting fake news on cancer on our blog.

Pelucchi C, Bosetti C, Galeone C, La Vecchia C. Dietary acrylamide and cancer risk: an updated meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2015;136:2912-2922.

Obon-Santacana M, Peeters PH, Freisling H, et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and epithelial ovarian cancer risk in the european prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC) cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24:291-297.

Obon-Santacana M, Kaaks R, Slimani N, et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and endometrial cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Br J Cancer. 2014;111:987-997.

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