Grilling and Cancer Risks
With summer here and the grill out in the backyard, who in the world is thinking about what dangers lurk in that juicy steak? The answer is: a lot of people are, and many of them are doctors and scientists researching on the effects of grilled or charred foods on the human body. And if you are debating that Fourth of July barbecue menu, or considering what to wear to Tim’s cookout over the weekend, you need to sit up and take notice too.
Many Americans are not aware that grilling can be unhealthy. The problem with grilling is that it combines meats with high heat, which leads to substances in the muscle proteins of these foods to form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These compounds damage the DNA of our cells, leading to the start of cancers. The HCAs are most likely to develop in meats, especially pork, beef, fish, and chicken that have been blackened or charred during cooking. Studies have shown that those who eat meats rare or medium-rare are less likely to develop stomach cancer than those who like their meats “well-done”.
The consumption of HCAs is most often linked to cancers of the colon and the stomach. Some investigations also suggest that these cancer-causing compounds could travel up the bloodstream to cause cancers in other organs. But before you pack off that grill, know that there is hope yet. Using leaner cuts of meat can help avoid the production of carcinogenic compounds. Studies also reveal that some meats are more potentially hazardous than others. Forego the pork ribs in favor of chicken breasts or turkey breasts for safety.
The methods and temperatures used for cooking also contribute in keeping food safe. Frying, broiling, and barbecuing are more hazardous than oven cooking or roasting, boiling, poaching or stewing. Barbecuing is dangerous because it brings the meat in direct contact with open flames at very high temperatures. To avoid this, precook meats for a few minutes in the microwave before grilling. Using thinner slices of meats will also help. While grilling, reduce contact between the meats and the flames to avoid buildup of HCAs. Use a drip tray or some foil to catch fat droppings before they can reach the flames. In addition, use a thermometer to cook to the right temperature and avoid overcooking.
With these guidelines in mind, you can have a great cookout without having to worry about life-threatening risks to your friends and family.