Follow-Up On Charred Meats Raising Cancer Risk

Q. Ron, you’ve previously reported that charred meats may raise cancer risk. Should I avoid grilling?

A. Judith C. Thalheimer, RD, LDN, managing editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter answers: “High-heat cooking, such as grilling or barbecuing, leads to the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present in flames and can stick to the surface of the food in charring. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when proteins react to the intense heat of the grill. These chemicals can damage DNA and have been found to cause cancer in animals, although there is no definitive evidence of cause-and-effect in humans. Other high-heat cooking methods, such as broiling and frying, can also create HCAs. “Any charred food will contain PAHs and grilling any high-protein foods (such as beef, pork, poultry, and fish) will create HCAs. Red meat is of particular concern, however, because high consumption is associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer regardless of the cooking method.

“Cooking meats using techniques such as braising, steaming, poaching, stewing, and microwaving produces fewer of these chemicals, but if you don’t want to give up your summer barbecues, the American Institute for Cancer Research offers the following tips to avoid charring meat while grilling:

🔥Marinate meat before grilling.

🔥Pre-cook larger cuts of meat using an oven, microwave, or stove to reduce the length of time they are exposed to flame.

🔥Choose lean cuts of meat and trim visible fat to reduce flare-ups that cause charring.

🔥Flip meat frequently while cooking.

🔥Grill more fish, vegetables, and fruits and less meats.

Also, there is some evidence that propane grills produce less PAHs and HCAs than charcoal grills. Furthermore, some grills (such as Weber) have anti flame-up bars to help reduce flame-ups caused by dripping fats. This may also help reduce the carcinogenic effect of high heat grilling.

Source: Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, Sept. 2019

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