: Eating too much grilled meat is bad for your health?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Eating a lot of grilled meat has been associated with increased risk for several different cancers.
WHAT WE KNOW
It’s that time of year again … longer days, warmer nights, and time for firing up the grill! Only this year, you might want to reassess your meal itinerary. Two aspects of the traditional American cookout, what you grill and how you grill it, can play a role in raising risk for cancer. When any kind of meat, poultry or fish is cooked at high temperatures, especially when well-done or charred, cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form. These substances can theoretically damage DNA in ways that make cancer more likely.
Animal and laboratory studies suggest that HCAs may damage DNA and spur the development of tumors in cells of the colon, breast, prostate and lymph systems. At temperatures of 350°F and hotter, proteins react to form HCAs. PAHs form when fat drips onto hot coals, creating smoke that settles on food.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
A study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found a strong relationship between diets that contained a higher amount of grilled and fried meat intake and prostate cancer. The study also found, however, that prostate cancer is less common among those who consume a diet that consists of more plant foods including cereals, soy products, and fruit and vegetable sources of carotenoids.¹
A review published in Mutation Research found that overall the intake of meat cooked by grilling increased the risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. Frying (which also produces HCAs) was also found to be positively correlated with lung cancer in nonsmokers. Many of the studies recorded in the review were done on animals, concluding that future research needs to be done.²
Don’t throw out the grill, just make a simple switch! While grilling is a healthy way to prepare food, focus on grilling colorful vegetables and fruits, and cut back on the amount of meat on your cookout menu. Plant foods contain a variety of naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals (antioxidants), many of which provide their own anti-cancer protection.
For now remember these simple rules …
- Partially cook meat first —You can do this in the microwave, oven, or stove to help reduce the amount of time the meat sits on the grill exposed to high heat.
- Go slow and low —Slow down the cooking time with a low flame and keep burning and charring to a minimum.
- Cut off visible fat—Removing the fat reduces flare-up.
- Cook in the center and move coals to the side—Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them.
- Cut off charred portions of the meat
- Showcase fruits & veggies—No barbecue should be a meat-only affair. Grilling fruits and veggies is a great way to load up on vitamins and nutrients that help your body fight off diseases like cancer. See Videos on Grilling Fruits & Vegetables
¹ Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis, M., G. Borthakur, J. Burns, et al. "Corrections of Dietary Patterns with Prostate Cancer." Molecular Nutrition & Research (2008); 52(1); 114-130.
² Sinha, Rashmi. "An Epidemiologic Approach to Studying Heterocyclic Amines." Mutation Research (2002); 506-507; 197-204.