Tips for avoiding cancer-causing compounds in barbecued meat

October 5, 2015

Scientists really know how to chill the thrill of the grill. Recent research has revealed that eating too much meat cooked at high temperatures may be a recipe for health problems.

Tips for avoiding cancer-causing compounds in barbecued meat

Does eating barbecued meat increase the risk of cancer?

In a nutshell, yes, eating barbecued steaks, hot dogs and other meats appears to increase the risk of several cancers.

  • The bad news for barbecue fans comes from lab and population studies. First, chemists discovered that cooking most types of beef, pork, poultry and fish at high temperatures — such as when you grill or pan-fry — produces compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both cause cancer in lab animals.
  • Grilling or pan-frying meat until it's well-done produces large amounts of these compounds;  roasting, stewing, braising and other low-temperature cooking methods produce far smaller amounts. Unfortunately, gravy made from pan drippings is also high in HCAs.
  • The US National Cancer Institute found that people who prefer their meat medium-well or well-done are three times more likely to develop stomach cancer than those who like their steaks and chops rare or medium-rare.
  • A recent study showed that post-menopausal women who had consumed the most grilled or smoked meat over their lifetimes had a 47 percent increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Other research has linked an appetite for barbecued meat to high risk of colon and pancreatic cancers.

Simple rules for slashing cancer-causing compounds

  1. Precook meat in a microwave oven for two minutes. This eliminates up to 90 percent of heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Pour off any liquid.
  2. Prevent flare-ups. Avoid grilling meat directly over hot coals or flames. Form the charcoal in a ring around the edges of the grill and cook the meat in the centre. Using a gas grill? Get one with two burners and cook food between them. Trimming excess fat helps, too.
  3. Marinate meat before grilling. Marinating meat for a few hours can cut HCAs by up to 90 percent. Use a marinade that contains an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar or citrus juice.
  4. Eat your meat rare or medium-rare. Longer cooking times produce more cancer-causing compounds.
  5. Get out the skewers. Small cuts of beef, such as those used for kebabs, require brief cooking times.
  6. Flip burgers frequently. This seems to prevent the formation of HCAs.


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