Charred food like barbecue meat has always been associated with the potential risk of cancer. Several studies and research have found that barbecuing produces some carcinogenic byproducts which when exposed to the skin causes skin cancer.
Family gatherings or parties with your friends is not complete without barbecues and grills. Nothing says summer quite like the sun, the garden and of course, a barbecue. I personally love delicious chicken and pork barbecues but last week I found something shocking about how eating barbecue can put you through the risk of cancer. Further, I came to know that grilling any food at high temperature can quickly turn the food into carcinogenic.
Not only this, the smoke that comes out during a barbecue releases hazardous chemicals that get absorbed into the skin, making them prone to skin cancer.
But How Does Grilling Releases Carcinogens?
When you grill something, for instance, say, red meat, two types of chemical reactions occur:
- When the fats in the meat start to melt and burn, it creates a dense smoke. The smoke contains harmful chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs. When the smoke surrounds the meat, then it transfers these chemicals into the meat itself, making the meat contagious with carcinogens.
- When you cook the meat at very high temperatures, say 300 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period of time, a reaction occurs in the food creating chemical substances, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are highly carcinogenic.
HCAs and PAHs are known to cause damage to the DNA but only after they have been metabolized by specific enzymes in the body. The effects of these chemicals however, depends upon the activity of the enzymes that can either increase the cancer risks or cause no effect at all.
Can Grilling Your Food Cause Cancer?
Researchers and experts have conducted several experiments, on animals that have shown that high concentrations of HCA can cause cancer. The same research on humans is yet to be carried out. A new study found that while you grill meat, people sitting around the barbecue absorbed higher amounts of PAHs through their skin than through air.
A number of experiments conducted by experts on rodents found that they developed tumors of the breast, liver, skin, lung, colon, prostate and other organs. They were fed a diet supplemented with very high doses of HCAs and PAHs, the doses that a normal person would not consume in a normal diet. Also, a direct link between HCA and PAH from cooked meats and cancer in humans is yet to be determined. Therefore,
Are There any Guidelines For How Much HCAs and PAHs Human Should Consume?
Unfortunately, there are no Federal guidelines that address the consumption of foods containing HCAs and PAHs. There are still, no recommendations provided by the authorities regarding the amount of HCA and PAH levels in meat that is safe for the consumption of humans.
So How Can You Cook Meat To Avoid Carcinogens?
The simplest way to reduce the HCA and PAH formation in cooked meats is to change the cooking methods. Some of the tips and tricks include:
- Go for lean meats rather than red meats. Use of lean meats stop the formation of PAHs. Avoid grilling meats that are high in fat as less fat means less formation of PAH.
- Don’t grill for too long. High temperatures and charring of meat results in the formation of a greater amount of carcinogens, leading to cancer.
- Load up veggies while grilling. The buildup of carcinogens is associated with grilling protein-rich foods like chicken and steak but vegetables do not release such carcinogens when burned.
- Don’t burn the meat. Charred meat contains a greater amount of carcinogens than medium to rare cooked meat. Try overcooking your meat by precooking them in oven.
- Always use a grill that has a temperature regulator. The USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures are
- Steaks & roasts – 145°F
- Fish – 145°F
- Pork – 160°F
- Ground beef – 160°F
- Chicken breasts – 165°F
- Whole poultry – 165°F
- Marinate your food with vinegar and spices. Some research have shown that the spices and vinegar in your marinades can protect the meat from the carcinogenic compounds.