While many of us might rave about the grill marks on the burgers or chicken we cook outdoors, we should be aware that those prized stripes on your meat are actually carcinogens that form when meat is cooked over high heat.
The fire, smoke, and the effects of grilling cause a chemical reaction and the compounds that form are hazardous to your health. If you love the taste of grilled food, you should realize that it’s not a healthy method of cooking.
Carcinogens form when:
• Meat is cooked at high temperatures
• Meat juices drip and the flames hit the meat.
• Meat is cooked over a long period of time.
Compounds that are carcinogenic form when meat is cooked at a temperature above 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius). It’s a chemical reaction that occurs in all meats, and their formation is dependent on time and temperature, which is why it’s riskier to consume well-done meat. One study found that well-done meat had 3.5 times the heterocyclic amines (HCA) of medium-rare meat.
2 Types of Carcinogenic Compounds
The two types of carcinogenic compounds that form are heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Well-done meat and HCAs are associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Carcinogens damage our DNA, which can lead to abnormal changes in cell division and eventually cancer.
Most people think that only red meat when cooked at high temperatures has the potential to be harmful, but the chief dietary sources of HCAs also include grilled chicken and broiled fish.
In addition to HCAs and PAHs formed during cooking, meat contains several elements that will damage your health when consumed excessively. These include animal proteins, heme iron, and arachidonic acid.
Minimizing Health Threats
To minimize these threats to your health, limit the amount of meat that you eat. Use small amounts of meat, for example, mixed in a bean burger with some onions and mushrooms. The phytate in the beans reduces the meat’s toxicity, by binding to some of the heme iron and reducing HCA production.
Adding anti-cancer foods such as garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables may help to detoxify some of the carcinogens your body absorbed. Furthermore, marinating meats with liquid and antioxidant-rich herbs, such as oregano and rosemary, has been shown to reduce the production of HCAs during cooking.
Safer, healthier options are also available. For example, marinated vegetables, corn on the cob, and portabella mushrooms all taste wonderful when grilled. However, you should still avoid eating the blackened parts of these foods.
For the occasional meat-eater, here are some strategies to employ next time you’re grilling to reduce HCAs and PAHs:
1. Cook food without direct contact with flame (You can wrap the meat in foil to cook).
2. Pre-cook in a microwave to reduce grill time.
3. Marinate with liquid or polyphenol-rich herbs and spices (cloves, rosemary, thyme, Mexican oregano, turmeric, sweet basil, and celery seeds).
4. Flip the food frequently.
5. Avoid charring or removed charred portions from the food.
6. Don’t eat gravy made from meat drippings.
7. Eat anti-cancer foods, along with meat.