Grilled Meats and Cancer Risk: What You Should Know
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June 25, 2020
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Grilled Meets and Cancer Risk Facts

By now, you have probably heard about the link between grilled meats and cancer risk. What should know about this link, and are there any ways to reduce the risk? We’ve got you covered with some helpful information below.

Grilling: A Popular, but Potentially Dangerous, Cooking Method

Although grilling has been used for a very long time to cook meat, and it is also used by cultures around the world, researchers have found that it does come with some risk. Basically, there are compounds in meats that are grilled, and those compounds might end up increasing your risk of developing cancer.

Grilled Meats and Cancer Risk: The Dangerous Compounds to Be Aware of 

There are two chemical compounds, known as HCAs and PAHs, that you should know about when it comes to the link between grilled meats and cancer risk. These are both related to mutations and changes in DNA that might then lead to cancer. Yikes!

It’s important to realize that these chemicals are formed when you expose meat to high temperatures to cook it. This includes any animal protein, so it’s everything from beef and pork to poultry and fish.

  • HCAs – Heterocyclic amines, which are also known as HCAs, are formed when creatine, sugars, and amino acids end up reacting at high heat. HCAs aren’t readily found in significant amounts anywhere other than in meats that are cooked at high temperatures. 
  • PAHs – Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also known as PAHs, form when the juices and fat in meat are exposed to open flames, and then drip into the fire and cause flames. Those flames have PAHs in them, and they end up sticking to the surface of the meat you cook. However, PAHs can also form when you use other cooking methods, such as smoking, to prepare ingredients like jerky, bacon, sausage, etc. Also, PAHs can be found in charred foods, as well as car exhaust and cigarette smoke. 

It’s Important to Know About the Link Between Grilled Meats and Cancer Risk 

In animal experiments, researchers have found that being exposed to PAHs and HCAs may lead to various types of cancer, such as cancer of the colon, breast, skin, liver, prostate, and lung.

Also, studies that used dietary questionnaires regarding the consumption of meat and the cooking methods used have been able to estimate how much exposure humans have to these dangerous compounds. What have the studies determined? Well, they’ve consistently found that regularly consuming meat that has been barbecued, fried, or prepared to well-done may increase the risk of prostate, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer.

Bottom line: grilled meats and cancer risk is definitely something that you need to consider when preparing meals for yourself and your loved ones!

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Dangerous Compounds 

Now that you know about the link between grilled meats and cancer risk, you might be wondering about the steps that you can take to reduce your risk. Well, the good news is that there are some ways that you can reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs.

  1. If you want to reduce your exposure to these chemicals, limit or avoid any direct exposure of your meat to open flames.
  2. The level of “doneness” of your meat is something to consider, too, so try to avoid cooking your meat at a high temperature for a prolonged period of time. Also, charring your meat is a big no-no.
  3. It’s a good idea to cook meat by flipping it continuously in an effort to avoid charring or overcooking it at all. And, if any charred areas do develop, remove them.
  4. It’s wise to avoid eating sauces or gravies that contain meat drippings.
  5. The easiest way to avoid the link between grilled meat and cancer risk is to choose plant-based ingredients. According to Cedars Sinai, vegetables and fruits do not contain fat or protein that lead to dangerous compounds when you expose them to high cooking temperatures. So, if you opt to grill plants instead of meats, you can enjoy the flavors of a barbecue without needing to worry about the potential cancer risk associated with grilled meats.

Now that you know how to avoid the grilled meats and cancer risk, you can make smarter and healthier choices when meal planning, and when selecting cooking methods!

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