Breakfasts featuring fried eggs, sausages and bacon aren’t just bad for your heart. They could spell serious problems for your lungs too – especially if you’re cooking them, a new study suggests. 

Researchers have found that frying certain foods triggers the release of similar pollutants that flood the outdoor air in built-up cities, and are known to increase the risk of lung disease. 

Previous studies involving chefs have shown exposure to cooking emissions is associated with chronic diseases in chefs. 

But the new experiment, by experts at the University of British Columbia, is the first in which researchers revealed certain compounds can form in domestic kitchens. 

A new study found cooking different foods in a frying pan on the stove produces potentially harmful chemicals

A new study found cooking different foods in a frying pan on the stove produces potentially harmful chemicals

A new study found cooking different foods in a frying pan on the stove produces potentially harmful chemicals

The study analyzed the emissions and chemicals produced when cooking common meals using a frying pan – including pancakes, pan-fried brussel sprouts and vegetable stir fries. 

To measure the amount of of pollutants produced by frying the meals, researchers set out to capture the smoke and emissions let off by cooking using a tool called an impinger, a small bottle mean to collect airborne chemicals. 

After analyzing the emissions, scientists found the cooking produced carbon aerosols, small particles or liquid droplets in the air, called BrCOA.

The team then exposed these aerosols to overhead lighting in typical houses and natural sunlight.

They found all the meals released the same amount of carbon aerosols that then subsequently produced a harmful compound called singlet oxygen when exposed to light. 

Singlet oxygen is a highly reactive compound that can cause lung damage and contribute to the development of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, previous studies have shown.

While all the meals produced singlet oxygen at around the same concentration, the highest amounts were detected when the fumes were exposed to sunlight – meaning kitchens with natural sunlight streaming in through windows could have the most compounds in the air.

Not only do these compounds form while cooking, but the scientists said they can linger in the air long after you’ve eaten, leading to the persistent degradation of your household air quality. 

The study found the amount of singlet oxygen produced by cooking was present at similar levels to environmental pollution measured outdoors, but could be more dangerous indoors because it is a confined space with less ventilation. 

While singlet oxygen compounds can be useful – sometimes used as a cancer therapy to cause cancer death – they have also been associated with damage to the body’s cells. 

Research has shown the chemical can also cause DNA and tissue damage, particularly of the skin and eyes and can cause swelling, blistering and scarring.  

Because this is the first study of its kind, the scientists said more research is needed to fully understand cooking-related singlet oxygen and other cooking emissions. 

Dr Nadine Borduas-Dedekind, UBC chemistry assistant professor and lead author of the study, said: ‘Our next steps include determining just how this oxidant might affect humans and how much we’re breathing in when we cook. Could it play a role in some cooking-related diseases?’

In an effort to reduce the amount of this chemical, researchers recommend turning on kitchen venting fans, opening windows for fresh air and using an air filter in the kitchen. 

Cooking with an oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil, can also help mitigate indoor pollution.  

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science: Atmospheres.  

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