Is Burnt Bacon Carcinogenic? Examining the Potential Cancer Risks of Overcooked Pork

If you’re the type of chef who often changes black pudding to blackened pudding and coronation chicken to cremated chicken, could it be hurting more than just your reputation as a chef?

Unless you’re making something trendy, like charred kale, burning food isn’t going to win you many fans in the kitchen. But is it dangerous? The answer, it seems, is complicated.

Higher levels of acrylamide in burned food have been linked to a higher risk of ovarian, kidney, and endometrial cancer. The WHO has classified acrylamide as a “possible” health risk. The International Agency for Research on Cancer also classifies acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen’.

But the link isn’t very clear. On its website, says that “acrylamide from burnt toast, burnt chips, or crispy potatoes is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer.”

Nutritionist Ania Mason (kim-pearson. com) still believes it’s best to exercise caution. She says that starchy foods like grains, potatoes, and other root vegetables that are cooked at high temperatures will all have some acrylamide in them, which is a chemical that may cause cancer and damage nerve cells. “It’s hard to say what levels are acceptable, but we need to be aware of the risks and maybe choose other options whenever we can.” ’.

One solution is to go low and slow. “Soups, stews, and casseroles that are slowly cooked and full of different colored vegetables are great for the cooler months,” she says.

Most experts agree, though, that what’s most important is to eat a healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Do that, and you won’t need to sweat the odd burnt potato.

Food that is boiled instead of fried, baked, or grilled is a simple way to lower the risk of getting burned. Since water boils at 100C, it doesn’t reach high enough temperatures to produce large amounts of acrylamide.

The “golden rule” says that food should be cooked until it’s a shade of yellowy-brown or golden, not charred until it’s dark brown or black. This is an easy way to tell how much acrylamide is in your food.

The amount of acrylamide produced increases significantly at temperatures hotter than 140C. Turning down your oven and embrace ‘low and slow’ cooking.

Crispy, charred bacon is a staple breakfast food for many. But concerns over links between burnt meat and cancer have some questioning if their beloved breakfast bacon may cause harm. So what does the science say about burnt bacon and cancer risk?

What Happens When Bacon is Burnt

Cooking bacon, especially at high temperatures like pan-frying, can produce two chemicals that may be carcinogenic:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Formed when fat and juices from bacon hit a hot pan or grill and burn PAHs are found on all charred meats,

  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs): Created when any meat is cooked at high temps for a long time. Bacon is especially prone because of its high protein and sugar content.

So the longer and hotter you cook bacon, the more PAHs and HCAs are created Very burnt, charred bacon likely contains higher levels of these compounds

Are PAHs and HCAs Carcinogenic to Humans?

Studies show PAHs and HCAs can cause cancer in animals when given in very high doses. So these chemicals are considered “possible” or “probable” human carcinogens.

However, most experts agree the levels consumed in a typical diet are unlikely to significantly raise cancer risk for most people.

One review found no link between acrylamide, PAHs, or HCAs and common cancers when looking at dietary studies. The compounds may pose a modest risk for cancers of the kidney, bladder, and digestive tract in certain cases. But more research is needed to know for sure.

So while burnt bacon or other burnt meat may contain carcinogenic chemicals, the levels are generally not thought high enough to greatly impact cancer risk.

Tips for Safer Bacon Cooking

You can take steps to reduce your exposure to PAHs and HCAs from bacon:

  • Cook on medium heat instead of high to avoid extensive browning/burning.

  • Microwave bacon before pan-frying to reduce time at high heat.

  • Flip bacon often while cooking.

  • Trim off very burnt portions before eating.

  • Limit bacon consumption to no more than a few times per week.

Cooking any meat, including bacon, over an open flame produces more PAHs than other cooking methods. Grilling, broiling, and barbecuing should be done carefully to avoid charring.

The Verdict on Burnt Bacon and Cancer Risk

While overcooked bacon contains potentially carcinogenic chemicals, they are unlikely to significantly raise cancer risk for most people eating a typical Western diet.

Of course, limiting burnt meat is still smart to reduce your exposure to PAHs and HCAs. But you don’t need to panic if your bacon gets a little crispy now and then.

Burnt bacon in moderation, as part of an overall healthy diet full of diverse fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins, is an acceptable way to enjoy this savory breakfast treat. Just don’t make a daily habit of eating severely charred meat.

So go ahead and enjoy your morning bacon, cooked to your liking. But if you are concerned about cancer risks, you may want to moderate portions and avoid frequent burning. And be sure to load up the rest of your diet with protective, antioxidant-rich plant foods.

is burnt bacon carcinogenic

Does Eating Burnt Food INCREASE CANCER RISK?

Does cooking bacon increase bowel cancer risk?

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.

Is Bacon bad for You?

That’s because multiple studies have tied a greater intake of processed meat to a higher risk of certain types of cancer, including colorectal, stomach, and breast cancers ( 2, 3, 4 ). Most bacon products contain sodium nitrite, which prevents bacterial growth and improves taste and color ( 5 ).

Is Bacon a carcinogen?

Furthermore, curing, grilling, and smoking contribute to the formation of harmful compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), all of which are considered carcinogenic ( 8, 9, 10, 11 ). Bacon is very high in sodium, with around 193 mg in each slice.

Does burnt food increase the risk of cancer?

The concern around burnt food increasing the risk of cancer relates to the chemicals that form when food is overcooked or burnt: The two most prevalent food groups affected are starchy foods and meat. Here’s a closer look at these chemicals and the level of risk they potentially impose:

Should you eat bacon if you have cancer?

But while bacon may be delicious, experts recommend people eat little or no processed meats because of their cancer risk. But while the cancer risk from processed foods is certainly something to think about, that doesn’t mean bacon should be totally off the menu.

Does fried bacon cause cancer?

Fried bacon contains more HCAs than any other cooked meat, and high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are also linked to cancer. Both HCAs and AGEs are produced by a chemical process called the Maillard reaction, which increases rapidly with heat. So your cancer risk could depend on how you cook your bacon.

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