Staples of the Western diet, including chips and crisps, are high in cancer-causing toxins called acrylamides, compounds found in fried, starchy foods.
Acrylamide is a poisonous substance produced in the manufacture of plastics, although it was discovered in food only recently. It starts to develop in foods cooked at 120o C, although the optimal temperature is between 140-180o C. 'The hotter and longer you bake or fry, the more carcinogen forms,' says Dr Dieter Arnold, of the Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection in Berlin.
The English Food Standards Agency found a 10-fold difference in acrylamide levels between normal and overcooked chips, which suggests that levels can be controlled.
Acrylamide attacks the thyroid gland, the female mammary gland, the male testes, and the mouth.
Experts say they still know too little about the formation of acrylamides to issue specific guidelines, but they recommend a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables (BMJ, 2002; 325: 120).