A few weeks ago the media was saturated with claims that Nutella contains ingredients that cause cancer, and then, just under a week later, it was revealed that eating burnt starchy foods could also increase the risk. Now, as a student, this news came as a massive blow to me, and I’m sure all my fellow roast potato and Nutella-lovers will agree. However, as I browsed through different media articles surrounding the subject, with a jar of Nutella that’s bigger than my head by my side, it became apparent that the media was split over whether the claims had enough evidence.
Also amongst my searches, I became aware of a large lists of foods that have also been said to possibly cause cancer in the past, including tinned tomatoes, microwave popcorn, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, and many more. With all of the controversy surrounding these different foods, it can be hard to gage an idea of what is safe to eat and what is harmful, posing the question- ‘ What should we believe?’.
Let’s start with Nutella.
The controversy surrounding this delicious chocolate spread was sparked with a warning from the European Food Safety Authority last year that palm oil, an ingredient found in Nutella, produces carcinogenic substances when it’s refined. Scientific studies conducted by the EFSA revealed that repeated exposure to GE, a fatty acid ester found in vegetable oils, increases the incidence of tumours in rats and mice. Although it’s not yet been revealed whether this is also the case in humans, the UK’s Food Standard Agency have stated “We advise that consumers eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet to balance the risk,”.
As all the attention is being pasted on Nutella, it’s relevant to mention that palm oil is found in many more foods including margarine, cakes and pastries. Although it’s a good thing that this warning about Nutella is being issued to keep people safe, it also demonstrates the way that the media can easily influence public opinion. By choosing to mainly focus on Nutella, the media has led people to mainly associate this food with cancer, failing to mention that palm oil is used in so many more products too.
Moving on to burnt food
It probably came to a shock to us all that the crispy, sweet-goodness of roast potatoes has the potential to cause cancer. According to The Food Standards Agency, overcooked starchy foods can contain the chemical compound acrylamide, which is thought to be linked to cancer. Although the media has exploded with headlines that overcooking food may cause cancer, studies have shown that acrylamide has the potential to interact with DNA in animals, with little evidence of it linking to humans as of yet. Acrylamide can also be found in biscuits, coffee, bread and tobacco smoke, therefore it’s important that people don’t just focus on the media’s ploy to ingrain this ‘fact’ in people that burnt foods are the main risk.
Put simply, it is too early to call what risk these foods pose to the health of the public and therefore the risks shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you are feeling confused about what is safe to eat, the best thing to do is to eat a balanced diet and try not to smoke or drink alcohol too frequently. Avoid assuming that burnt roast potatoes and Nutella outright cause cancer, and remember that the media eruption has encouraged people to have narrow minded views. Although they may pose a possible threat, it isn’t definite yet. The Cancer Research ‘Food controversies’ page acts as a helpful guide and explains the risks of many different foods.