Why Grilling Meat May Not Be as Healthy as You Think
Health (not cooking) experts believe that consuming meats cooked at a high temperature can create a perfect environment for cancer cells to thrive and is a carcinogen. Might as well get that out upfront. While this may come as shock to you, as you prep for that perfect beach BBQ or neighborhood grilling-get-together, you may want to take a few moments to look at some of the science and understand why more health care professionals are warning against eating too much grilled, smoked, blackened and charred meats.
According to a University of Minnesota study that tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period, they found that regularly consuming well-done or charred meat increases the risk of developing pancreatic and colorectal cancer by up to 60 percent! Researchers found that the higher temperatures and longer cooking times of cooking meats led to higher levels of HCAs and PAHs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).
What are PAHs and HCAs?
PAHs form when fat from meat drips onto the hot coals or grill element and then gets deposited back on the food because of flame-ups which create more smoke, leading to carcinogen formation.
HCAs are directly produced when red meat, poultry, and fish meet high-heat cooking, like grilling or broiling. These are harmful chemical byproducts that form while the meat is being cooked. HCA carcinogens have been found to cause damage and changes in DNA that leads to cancer.
Worst Types of Meats to Grill
So, what are the worst (health-wise) types of meats to consume? The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which considered more than 800 studies conducted around the world, found that the strongest evidence linked processed meats, such as hot dogs, beef jerky, bacon and ham with the highest percentage risk of cancer and disease. These processed meats are also highest in calories, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol compared to other meats such as lean chicken, eggs, and white fish.
While research is still being conducted to better understand the effects of cooking meats and the potential damage it can do to our bodies, it’s important to understand that you can still occasionally enjoy one of America’s favorite outdoor pastimes - impressing your family and friends with how you handle the grill!
Here are 7 safety measures the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests you follow when cooking meats:
- Go Lean: Trim the Fat off your meat. This will help to reduce flame flares and charring. Choose lean, white meat chicken and fish mainl.
- Location: Cook your meat in the center of your grill and make sure to flip it frequently.
- Go Small: Cut meat into smaller portions to shorten cooking time.
- Marinate: Studies suggest that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of those HCA carcinogenic compounds by 75-80 percent! The American Institute for Cancer Research says marinating meat for at least 30 minutes is sufficient to reduce the formation of HCAs.
- Dab Your Meat Dry: Dab dry the marinade and extra juices from your meats to cut down on the browning of the meats from the flames, as the sugars from these tend to char the faster.
- Pre-cook: Reduce the time your meat is exposed to flames by partially cooking it in an oven or on the stove first over medium or low heat. This also helps keep your meat safe from bacteria.
- Grill Vegetables: Grilling vegetables and fruits do not produce HCAs! Plus, diets high in plant foods are associated with lower cancer risk. So eat away!
Though a growing body of science suggests that regularly grilling or cooking meats at high temperatures is not the best for your body over time, these are effective ways to make sure you are doing the best to lower your s risk of carcinogenic chemicals from well-cooked or burnt meats. And remember, the type of food you choose to grill can have as much an impact on your health as the fact that you’re grilling it. So go lean and unprocessed and enjoy a tasty and healthy summer!