Is Eating Burnt Food Bad For You?

Sometimes we're simply too hungry to care that we left the pizza in the oven a little too long and burned the crust. A charred pizza might not taste perfect, but a little bit of burnt food never killed anybody, right? While it might seem like the only punishment for munching on burnt foods is a lackluster flavor, there's some suggestion that eating them can raise the risk of certain cancers, according to Science Focus.

This is because in many foods, and particularly baked goods like bread, is the presence of the toxic chemical acrylamide, and higher levels of it are found in food that has been burned. Studies on eating burnt foods and their link to potentially fatal health conditions have been a bit mixed. A Dutch study in 2007 found that the presence of acrylamide in burnt food was linked to ovarian and womb cancer, and that women with higher levels of acrylamide in their diets were twice as likely to develop these cancers (via The Telegraph). However, the American Cancer Society says that since acrylamide was only discovered in foods in 2002, more research is needed before it can make any sort of definitive statement regarding acrylamide in foods and cancer.

The debate over the risks of eating burned or charred foods also varies depending on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on. While Britain's Food Standards Agency warned against over-browning food because of the potential health risks and even warned that toast should be golden yellow at most, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is less clear on its stance and has no recommended levels on an acceptable amount of acrylamide in foods.

So what about those of us who enjoy a little burn on our food? Many Mexican dishes call for a nice char on peppers, onions, and potatoes, and brisket burnt ends are a popular staple at many barbecue restaurants (via The New York Times). Surely we don't have to stop eating these burnt foods forever, do we? Marji McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, told Live Science that it does make sense to limit the amount of acrylamide you consume, even though, according to ACS, "evidence from human studies so far is somewhat reassuring..." Perhaps, in the case of burnt food, "everything in moderation" makes the most sense — at least until we have definitive answers.