08 May 2024

Cooking has made the oxygen of the air potentially hazardous to health

During cooking, the air in the kitchen changes: it heats up, absorbing the products of burning oil. Scientists from Canada and Switzerland have discovered that frying in a lighted room also produces singlet oxygen, which contributes to diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

When a person cooks food, different factors affect the air that is in the room and then enters the lungs. It changes, for example, due to the substances that oil and other products release when heated: these often cause chronic diseases in cooks. If food is cooked on a gas stove, more tiny aerosol particles are released into the air than from gasoline or diesel-powered cars.

Cooking can emit, among other things, brown carbon (small carbon particles produced by combustion), whose molecules can create oxidizing agents when they interact with light. These are chemical compounds that include both beneficial (such as ozone in the stratosphere) and harmful ones that put a strain on the lungs and increase the long-term likelihood of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other serious illnesses. One potentially harmful oxidizer is singlet oxygen.

Researchers from Canada's University of British Columbia and Switzerland's ETH Zurich have suggested that singlet oxygen can be found in a room where something is being cooked. Although rooms have historically been thought to be insufficiently lit to produce such active chemicals, modern kitchens have an abundance of light sources. To confirm or refute their hypothesis, the scientists cooked several meals and analyzed air samples from the kitchen. The results of their work were published in the journal Environmental Science: Atmospheres.

The authors of the article prepared three different dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner: pancakes, fried Brussels sprouts and vegetables steer-fry - quickly fried in hot oil in a deep pan with sloping walls. While each dish was cooking, the researchers took air samples, which were then exposed to three different sources of radiation: ultraviolet, solar and fluorescent light.

Singlet oxygen was found in all three samples after exposure to electromagnetic radiation, and its concentration was about the same. However, the content of this compound was higher when the air from the kitchen was exposed to sunlight. This means that more singlet oxygen can be formed in natural light.

To reduce the harm of substances that are produced during cooking, the researchers recommended ventilating the kitchen frequently. Air purifiers can also be used.

"Our next steps include determining exactly how singlet oxygen can affect humans and how much we inhale when we cook. It is important to understand whether some diseases, with cooking, can arise from it, among other things," the authors of the publication reported.

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