Studies have shown grilling meat over high heat can up your chances of cancer—here’s one delicious way to reduce the risk.
There are few things better than grilling outside when the weather warms up, but if you’re cooking your meat at a high temperature (who isn’t?), there’s a chance you consuming unwanted carcinogens (read: substances that can lead to cancer).
Here’s how (bear with me, ‘cause I’m about to nerd out): Grilling meat can form compounds called HCAs and PAHs, both of which, according to the National Cancer Institute, cause changes in DNA that may increase your cancer risk.
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According to them, HCAs form when the amino acids and creatinine (substances found in muscle) from meat—such as fish, beef, pork, or chicken—react at high temps.
Meanwhile, PAHs form when fat drips from the meat down into the grill and creates smoke. That smoke circulates around your meat and could deposit carcinogenic compounds on whatever you’re grilling. PAHs can also form during other types of high-heat cooking, like smoking or pan-frying.
The bottom line: If you’re cooking your meat at high temps—especially ones over 300 degrees—you could be putting yourself at a greater risk of consuming carcinogens.
So, how can you enjoy your dang hamburger in peace, you ask? It turns out, adding rosemary to your meat could help slash your cancer risk.
A s backyard cookout season kicks into high gear, many people may be eyeing their sizzling burgers and dogs with suspicion. And for good reason: a number of studies published in the past two decades have turned up evidence that eating charred, smoked, and well-done meat could raise cancer risk&mdashpancreatic, colorectal, and prostate cancers, in particular.
A 2010 review of the evidence on cancer and &ldquowell-done&rdquo meat, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University, concluded that &ldquothe majority of these studies have shown that high intake of well-done meat and high exposure to meat carcinogens, particularly HCAs, may increase the risk of human cancer.&rdquo Heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which some experts also refer to as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), are a class of chemical that forms in cooked red meat and, to a lesser extent, in poultry and fish, according to a 2011 study in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Another class of chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), has also been linked to cancer. &ldquoPAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke,&rdquo according to a fact sheet published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). &ldquoThe smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat.&rdquo Even if meat isn&rsquot charred or cooked at high temps, smoking meat can increase its levels of PAHs.
Both HAAs and PAHs are metabolized by enzymes in the body. And some of the byproducts of this process can cause DNA damage that may contribute to the development of cancer, suggests the research of Robert Turesky, an expert in cancer causation at the University of Minnesota.
But there&rsquos a lot of variance in how a given piece of grilled meat affects any individual person. &ldquoThe concentrations of HAAs formed in cooked meats can vary by over 100-fold, depending on the type of meat, the method, temperature, and duration of cooking,&rdquo says Turesky. &ldquoIn general, the highest concentrations of HAAs [are found] in well-done cooked meats, and in meats that are charred, such as by barbequing or flame broiling,&rdquo
Turesky&rsquos research also indicates that a person&rsquos genetic makeup may influence how they respond to the chemicals, and so &ldquothe risk of developing cancer for individuals who eat well-done meat may vary considerably,&rdquo he says.
Further, there&rsquos mounting evidence tying the consumption of processed meats&mdashsuch as hot dogs, bacon, and salami&mdashwith some of the same cancers studies have linked to grilled or well-done meat. It may be that individuals who eat a lot of charred steak or well-done burgers are also more likely than the average person to eat a lot of bacon or hot dogs. And so it could be the processed meat&mdashnot the blackened steak&mdashthat accounts for any increased cancer risks. &ldquoSorting out what&rsquos driving these associations is very hard,&rdquo says Dr. Stephen Freedland, director of the Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Another challenge to the &ldquogrilled-meat-causes-cancer&rdquo narrative is that the real-world evidence linking the consumption of well-done meat to cancer is inconsistent. While that 2010 Vanderbilt study found &ldquoa majority&rdquo of studies have turned up a cancer connection, that majority was slim. Some studies have found evidence of increased cancer risk among people who eat a lot of grilled meat, but other studies have not found a significant association.
&ldquoPopulation studies have not established a definitive link between HCA and PAH exposure from cooked meats and cancer in humans,&rdquo according to the NCI. While studies in rodents indicate that these chemicals can cause cancer, &ldquothe doses of HCAs and PAHs used in these studies were very high&mdashequivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet,&rdquo the NCI&rsquos fact sheet states.
Freedland&rsquos take on the evidence is that eating a lot of charred meat&mdashsay, two to three meals a week for many years&mdashcould produce the kind of cellular damage that raises cancer risk. &ldquoBut I don&rsquot want people to be paranoid,&rdquo he says. &ldquoI worry a lot more about the desserts and soda people are having with their grilled meat.&rdquo
The sugar in these foods and drinks likely contributes to obesity, and obesity is a clear risk factor for cancer. &ldquoI think eating charred meat is probably not the best thing for you, but here and there, it&rsquos probably okay,&rdquo Freedland says. He notes that grilling meat on tin foil and marinating it in herbs and spices may also reduce the development of potential carcinogens.
&ldquoClearly, the risk [of eating charred meat] is far lower than for someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day or heavily imbibes alcohol,&rdquo Turesky says. &ldquoBut many people who are meat-eaters consume low levels of these potentially carcinogenic compounds daily, and the exposure may add up over time.&rdquo He advises eating meat &ldquoin moderation,&rdquo and trying not to overcook or char meat.
Long story short, eating a blackened steak every night for dinner is probably imprudent if you&rsquore worried about cancer. But enjoying the occasional burned burger or ribeye isn&rsquot something you should stress about.
1. You Use Store-Bought Marinades
If you marinade meat right, you can drastically reduce levels of cancer-causing compounds created during grilling. Read the ingredients on most store-bought marinades, however, and you’ll likely see many products contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, two problematic ingredients that actually make grilling much more dangerous. Using thicker, store-bought marinades containing sweeteners like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or even honey makes charring more likely, possibly increasing exposure to carcinogens. (4)
Opt for thinner vinegar or lemon juice-based marinades rich in herbs and spices, including carcinogen-neutralizing rosemary, instead. Experiments from the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii discovered teriyaki marinade led to a 67 percent reduction in carcinogenic HCAs. A marinade containing turmeric and garlic reduce HCAs by 50 percent. Be careful, though, because sugary marinades can actually triple HCA levels. (5, 6)
The empowering take on this is that the American Institute for Cancer Research found that using healthy marinating recipes can actually lower HCA levels by up to 96 percent. (7)
2. You Fire Up Worming Meds
They say you are what you eat. And if you’re cooking up factory-farmed meat , you’re making one of the biggest grilling mistakes. Drugs are so common in agriculture today that harmful medications routinely turn up in nonorganic meat. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service detects medications like ivermectin (an animal wormer), flunixin (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), penicillin and ciprofloxacin (antibiotics), and other drugs at levels that are in violation of current regulations. Some of these drugs are linked to neurological impacts, allergic reactions and kidney damage in humans. Exposing these meds in meat to high temperatures doesn’t always neutralize them all, and in some cases can make them more toxic. (8, 9, 10)
If you’re grilling meat, always choose grass-fed, organic options. Of course, you can also choose organic veggies to grill, too. Just avoid ones on the dirty dozen list.
3. You Wrap Your Taters in Poison
Wrapping potatoes (or even fish) in aluminum foil with a dollop of butter is a fast and easy way to cook on the grill. The problem is aluminum foil has been shown to leach when exposed to high temperatures. That’s concerning, since there’s a link between aluminum and dementia. (11)
A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science also found that exposing food in aluminum foil to heat caused leaching to occur in levels that would be considered unacceptable by the World Health Organization. (12)
4. You Use Nonstick Accessories
Nonstick grilling accessories, including the actual grates, spatulas and grilling griddles, pans, and mats are tempting because they can make an otherwise messy cleanup a cinch. The problem is that perfluorooctanoic chemicals and related compounds commonly found in nonstick cookware have been linked to obesity, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, and toxicity to the brain, liver, prostate and kidneys. While it may require more elbow grease during cleanup, skip the nonstick grilling accessories and use ones without the chemical coatings instead. (13)
5. You Fail to Precook
The American Institute for Cancer Research highly recommends precooking meat before firing it up on the grill. This helps reduce “drippings” on the grill, which turn into smoke full of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Partially cooking meat in on the stovetop or oven and then immediately transferring to a preheated grill helps lower levels of PAHs. (14)
Before canceling your barbecue and wallowing in sadness for a summer memory lost, there are several things you can do to reduce the carcinogens in barbecued meats—often substantially. Some of these include:
Research suggests that marinating for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs on meat, poultry and fish. The reason for this is not entirely clear to researchers, but one possibility is a kind of shield effect. “If you put a barrier of basically sugar and oil between the meat and the heat, then that is what becomes seared instead of the meat,” said Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research. It also makes your meat more flavorful.
Many kinds of fruits and vegetables are actually protective as far as cancer risk, and they don’t form HCAs when grilled. Several experts recommend using meat as a condiment. Think of alternating cubes of chicken with peppers and onions or peaches and pineapple on a skewer, for instance. This trick, which also works when pan frying, reduces the surface area of meat exposed to the hot surface, Dr. Brockton explained, since the meat is also touching other ingredients throughout the cooking process.
Two classes of carcinogens, or cancer causing substances, can be found in high concentrations in grilled meats. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when muscle meats, including beef, pork, poultry and fish, are cooked at a high temperature, as they are when grilled. Another class of carcinogens, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are formed on the surface of meats by smoke and flame flares which occur when fat and juices drip down onto the heat source below.
While researchers still aren’t 100 percent sure how much char is too much for human consumption, we do know that PAHs and HCAs cause cancer in animals (however, only at very high doses). The research in humans is not as clear. Some studies have shown a correlation between eating well-done, fried, or barbecued meats and increased risk of colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
Bottom Line: If you tend to live by the precautionary principle, you want to try to limit your exposure as much as possible.
Some people may be reconsidering plans to grill hot dogs and steak based on a new report supporting the link between red and processed meats, and increased colorectal cancer risk. But, experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say that small changes to what — and how — you grill can keep cancer off the menu.
“The good news is that you can do something to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer,” says Sally Scroggs, health education manager at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. “And, making just a few cooking adjustments when grilling can play a part in prevention.”
Scroggs recommends these tips for a healthier barbecue.
1. Avoid processed meats.
Skip processed meats like bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, sausage, hot dogs and pepperoni.
Cancer-causing substances form when these meats are preserved, says the American Institute for Cancer Research. And, eating these meats can damage a person’s DNA, increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.
Eating too much red meat like pork, lamb and beef (including hamburgers) can raise a person’s cancer risk. Try grilling skinless chicken breasts and fish instead.
Insist on red meat? “Limit yourself to three, six-ounce (cooked) servings per week,” Scroggs says. “One serving is the size of two decks of cards.”
3. Don’t char or burn meat, poultry or fish.
Charring, burning or grilling meat, poultry and fish over high temperatures causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. These HCAs can damage a person’s genes, raising the risk for stomach and colorectal cancers.
Marinating meat in vinegar, lemon juice and herbs such as mint, rosemary, tarragon or sage can reduce HCA formation by as much as 96%. Just 30 minutes can help.
Cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form in the smoke when fat from meat, poultry or fish drips onto the heat source. That PAH-filled smoke then coats your food.
Curb exposure to PAHs by trimming fat from meat before grilling. Or, choose cuts labeled “lean.”
6. Showcase fruits and 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.
“For some grilling enthusiasts, these changes might initially be a lot to stomach,” Scroggs says. “But updating how you barbecue may mean you continue to enjoy grilling for many summers to come.”
Grilled food just might increase your cancer risk. It’s summer and the barbecue is all fired up. You can smell it from your neighbors backyard and you are salivating. Don’t jump over the fence quite so fast. Think before you eat! The longer meat is cooked, the more dangerous it becomes.
Consider this: You are serving cancer causing food from the grill.
The blackened areas on charred and grilled flesh foods (meat, poultry, fish) are a source of carcinogenic chemicals. These chemical directly damage DNA, our genetic material, initiate mutations that can lead to the development of cancer.
When the proteins are heated to the point that the flesh starts to brown and blacken, you have the presence of heterocyclic amines, (HCA) which are known carcinogens. HCAs form when extreme heat causes a chemical reaction between the amino acids natural found in proteins and creatine found in muscle meats. HCAs are also found broiled and well done red meats. Other high temperature cooking such as frying also produces these dangerous chemicals.
Diets with high exposures to HCAs are correlated with higher rates of cancers of the pancreas, colon and digestive tract. Learn how to reduce risk of colon cancer NATURALLY.
HCAs can directly damage your DNA initiating cancer. The highest levels of HCAs are found in grilled poultry, steaks, salmon grilled with the skin, well done hamburgers and barbecued pork such as spare ribs.
And when the fat drips onto the coals and there is a flare Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) , another family of carcinogens are formed. The smoke carries these hydrocarbons which coat the food we eat. PAHs also form with charring. Exposure to PAHs are correlated with increased rates of stomach cancer.
Three groups of foods form cancer causing chemicals when grilled and blackened
What to do to keep your family safe?
The safest thing to do is to give up grilling, frying, cooking at high temperatures, overcooked and well done meats
Use Alternate Cooking Methods
Eat More Colorful Fruits And Vegetables
Plant based diets contain the least cancer promoters. Plant based diets alsoprovide an abundance of cancer fighting plant chemicals. Plant based diets reduce oxidative stress that leads to DNA damage. Plant based diets lead to lower levels of inflammation which is an environment that is protective to the cells and the DNA, inhibiting cancer rather than promoting hit.
Try Grilling Vegetables and Fruits which do NOT form cancer causing chemicals when cooked at high heats.
try grilled asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, eggplants, onions, portabello mushrooms even mangoes brushed with a little olive oil. Try soy burgers and vegeburgers instead of meat.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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