A new study at the University of Maastricht has found that a common chemical called acrylamide caused by frying, roasting or grilling a food substance can double the risk of cancer in women.
The study, which enrolled 120,000 people - half of whom were women, established a direct association between consumption of the chemical and the incidence of ovarian and womb cancer.
AdvertisementIt also revealed that the chemical is found in cooked foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, coffee and also meat and potatoes which had been fried, baked, roasted, grilled or barbecued.
The Dutch study discovered that women who had more acrylamide were twice as likely to develop ovarian or womb cancer as those who ingested a smaller amount. The higher amount eaten by the women involved was the equivalent to a single packet of crisps, half a pack of biscuits, or a portion of chips a day.
The European Union (EU) has now suggested people to avoid eating burnt toast or golden brown chips because they contain higher levels of the substance acrylamide. They have also advised eating home-cooked meals, which contain much lower amounts of the chemical than processed products, fast food and restaurant meals.
The Food Standards Agency welcomed the report and called on consumers to consider EU's advice. However, a spokesman said it was not possible to avoid the chemical entirely.
"This new study supports our current advice and policy, which already assumes that acrylamide has the potential to be a human carcinogen. Since acrylamide forms naturally in a wide variety of cooked foods, it is not possible to have a healthy balanced diet that avoids it," the Telegraph quoted the spokesman, as saying.
The Dutch report is based on the Netherlands Cohort Study, which enrolled 120,000 people between the age group of 55 to 70, out of which 62,000 were women.
At the beginning of the study, participants filled a questionnaire that was used to estimate their acrylamide intake.The participants were followed up through the Dutch cancer registries and after 11 years, 327 had developed endometrial (womb) cancer, 300 were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 1,835 suffered breast cancer.
It was found that women who had eaten 40mg of acrylamides a day (found, for example in a 32g pack of crisps) had double the risk of endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer than women in the lowest category.
However, there was no association found to breast cancer.
Janneke Hogervorst, at the Department of Epidemiology at Maastricht University, said the study was the first to look at the link between dietary acrylamide intake and cancer in humans.
However, she warned: "It is important that these results are corroborated and confirmed by other studies before far-reaching conclusions can be drawn."
The FSA recommended consumers should try to eat less fried and overcooked food in their diet.
"People should eat a balanced healthy diet which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, bread, other cereals and potatoes. They should also limit the amount of sugary and fatty foods they eat, including fried food such as chips and crisps. General advice, resulting from this project, is to avoid overcooking when baking, frying or toasting carbohydrate-rich foods. French fries and roast potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow rather than golden brown colour and bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable," a spokesman said.
Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, tried to calm concerns over the link, suggesting that other factors could have a greater impact on the chances of cancer.
"Women shouldn't be unduly worried by this news. It's not easy to separate out one component of the diet from all the others when studying the complex diets of ordinary people. And as acrylamide levels are highest in carbohydrate containing foods - such as chips and crisps - other factors need to be firmly ruled out, especially being overweight or obese, which we know is strongly linked to womb cancer and probably linked to ovarian cancer," she said.
The study is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.