Food & Cooking

U.K. Campaign Against Charred Foods Casts Light on Benefits of the Mediterranean Lifestyle

A U.K. public health campaign aims to increase awareness of the risks of consuming browned food. This latest proclamation and vocal criticism from its opponents have cast renewed focus on the foods and diets known to mitigate cancer risk.

Feb. 15, 2017
By Mary Hernandez

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The United Kingdom’s Food Standard’s Agency (FSA) has spo­ken out against con­sum­ing browned foods, cit­ing that food baked, roasted, grilled or fried at high tem­per­a­tures pos­sess an over­abun­dance of the chem­i­cal com­pound acry­lamide.

Cook­ing in polyphe­nol-rich olive oil has been shown to reduce lev­els of these poten­tially harm­ful chem­i­cals.- Simon Poole

While no cur­rent sci­en­tific evi­dence cur­rently links can­cer to the over­con­sump­tion of this burnt toast chem­i­cal,’ the FSA are advis­ing the pub­lic limit to their con­sump­tion of foods pre­pared in this man­ner. As aca­d­e­mics, pub­lic edu­ca­tors, and health orga­ni­za­tions are voic­ing dis­agree­ment with the study’s assump­tions, there remains the con­sen­sus that a Mediter­ranean-style diet rich in lean meat, fish, fresh pro­duce and olive oil (which has actu­ally been proven to inhibit acry­lamide for­ma­tion) decreases can­cer risk.

The news that browned and burnt food could pose a poten­tial can­cer risk is not a new one. In 2015, the World Health Organ­i­sa­tion made an offi­cial announce­ment encour­ag­ing the pub­lic to limit their con­sump­tion of processed meat prod­ucts such as sausages and bacon, as they could increase the risk of devel­op­ing can­cer. They also stressed that high-tem­per­a­ture cook­ing of meat (such as at a bar­be­cue) could also increase the car­cino­genic prop­er­ties of foods.

Now the FSA has teamed up with Olympic Gold Medal­list Denise Lewis on the Go for Gold cam­paign after its study of inor­ganic con­t­a­m­i­nants, acry­lamide, and myco­tox­ins in the diet of the aver­age UK cit­i­zen found that, while it was not pos­si­ble to avoid con­sum­ing acry­lamide entirely, the amounts being con­sumed are of pos­si­ble con­cern for an increased life­time risk of can­cer.”

Mean­while, renewed atten­tion has fallen on past research into coun­ter­act­ing the for­ma­tion of acry­lamide in foods cooked at high tem­per­a­tures.

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One such study points to using olive oil as a reli­able mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy” when prepar­ing fried food. The study was con­ducted almost ten years ago in 2008 by researchers at Italy’s Dipar­ti­mento di Scienza degli Ali­menti (Depart­ment of Food Sci­ence) at the Uni­ver­sity of Napoli Fed­erico II.

Researchers fried slices of pota­toes in four dif­fer­ent oils at 180 degrees for five, ten, and fif­teen min­utes test­ing each one after­ward for acry­lamide lev­els. The results revealed that the slices fried in extra vir­gin olive oil had the low­est con­cen­tra­tion of acry­lamide, thanks to the ortho-diphe­no­lic com­pounds present in the oil.

Not every­one is con­vinced of the dan­ger being pre­sented by acry­lamide, how­ever. Sir David Spiegel­hal­ter, Win­ton Pro­fes­sor of the Pub­lic Under­stand­ing of Risk at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity, has spo­ken out against the study’s con­clu­sions, as has Can­cer Research UK and Marji McCul­lough, Strate­gic Direc­tor of Nutri­tional Epi­demi­ol­ogy at the Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety.

In fact, many experts are point­ing out that lim­it­ing one’s con­sump­tion of starchy fried foods and fatty, processed meats and increas­ing one’s intake of fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles — some­thing the Go For Gold’ cam­paign is rec­om­mend­ing — is likely to decrease one’s can­cer risk any­way, whether you con­sume acry­lamide or not.

It’s an approach echoed by Simon Poole, a UK-based author­ity on the Mediter­ranean diet and co-author of the book The Olive Oil Diet: Nutri­tional Secrets of the Orig­i­nal Super­food. Accord­ing to Poole, the advice on the pres­ence of acry­lamide in some cooked starchy foods was clearly based on rea­son­able evi­dence, how­ever, it is a pity that yet again advice from gov­ern­ment food agen­cies is neg­a­tive in tone and has been described as dis­pro­por­tion­ate.”


The oppor­tu­nity has been missed to join up the dots’ of dietary advice while cit­ing some robust study data show­ing that meth­ods of cook­ing can mit­i­gate the risk of the for­ma­tion of such com­pounds,” Poole told Olive Oil Times.

Cook­ing in polyphe­nol-rich olive oil has been shown to reduce lev­els of these poten­tially harm­ful chem­i­cals includ­ing related het­e­ro­cyclic amines in meat as well as the veg­eta­bles and bread in this exam­ple,” he pointed out.

While there is no doubt other con­trib­u­tory fac­tors, the lower rates of many types of can­cer seen in pop­u­la­tions adher­ing to tra­di­tional Mediter­ranean ways of prepar­ing food may well at least in part relate to the reg­u­lar use of extra vir­gin olive oil when cook­ing veg­eta­bles and other foods.”



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