Restaurants serving barbequed food witness a constant flow of customers for their grilled specialties especially the meats that are marinated with specialty herbs, sauces and salt to get the special taste and texture. But we do have complaints that well-done and charred meat increases the risk of cancer especially, pancreatic, colorectal and prostate cancers.
But not everyone’s grilled meat tastes so yummy and mouth-watering. If you love to make the perfect grilled meat, the first to ensure is that the meat is red and not grey in color before it hits the grill. Myoglobin is the heme iron containing protein that gives meat its color. Just like how the hemoglobin stores oxygen in blood cells myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells. The red color of the meat depends on the myoglobin content present in it. Charcoal grilling is preferred over gas grilling for maximized flavor of the meat as charcoal and smoke from wood chips create flavorful aromas. The aroma is further heightened when the juice from the meat drips onto the charcoal. Your mouth waters at the sight of the meat and you are ready to indulge in the hotdogs and well-done burgers for a tasty treat. But you do think twice before hogging the food as it evokes fear of cancer. This is really annoying and heart-breaking-you have a yummy meal still you don’t eat it happily fearing health hazards. How true is this claim and if so, why aren’t we cutting down on such meat production and consumption too?
Toxic Chemical Box
The grilling box creates toxins at high temperature called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) or heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) that are a class of chemicals formed mostly in cooked red meat and sometimes in fish and poultry. We are excited over the superb flavor created when juice from the meat drips on the charcoal but it also causes creation of a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that once again are linked to cancer (https://time.com/5613194/grilled-meat-cancer-risk/). HAAs and PAHs are metabolized by enzymes and some of the byproducts can cause damage to the DNA that exists as the root cause for cancer formation. Sometimes, it’s more than the open flame that causes health effects. Even the International Agency for the Research of Cancer brands these processed meats as carcinogenic and consuming 50 grams of processed meat can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
While all this is true, there is also another side to the story. The amount of HAA in the meat purely depends on certain factors such as cooking time, duration, method of cooking and type of meat. Those that have the highest concentration of HAA include well-done cooked meats and charred meats. But not all those who eat such meats become victims to cancer and sometimes it does depend on the genetic makeup of the individual to determine how they respond to chemicals and risk the development of cancer. But the question also arises whether its only charred or well-done meat that invokes cancer risk. Eating salami, bacon and hot dogs is pronouncedly seen in those who eat grilled or charred meat and the rise in cancer risk might be even due to the consumption of processed meats such as bacon and salami. We have quite contradictory results from studies too as some support this theory while others deny it. We do have few other studies showing that consumption of fried and grilled meats does increase the risk of diabetes and dementia. This also paves way for understanding the connection between diabetes and dementia-presence of diabetes doubles the risk of dementia. Eating healthy food, exercising regularly and refraining from smoking reduce the risk of dementia. Hence, it comes as no surprise when chemicals in cooked foods such as burgers and chicken are linked to dementia.
A Drill on the Best Way to Grill
Marinating helps in preventing toxins from entering your meat thereby suppressing the carcinogenic effect on the meat for reasons still unknown. What you use for marinating also determines how much effect it has on cancer risk. For instance, a herb marinade reduces the risk by 72% while a Caribbean marinade drops the risk by 88%. In another study researchers tested the effect of rosemary on ground beef patties. The extract was applied to both sides of the meat and results showed that higher the concentration of the extract, greater was the reduction in heterocyclic amines (as much as 90% reduction rates).
Also, while meat tastes great when grilled you can always try grilling fruits and vegetables too such as zucchini, strawberries, guavas, watermelons and pineapples but before doing it remember to clean the grill. Otherwise the leftover carcinogenic agents might cling onto the new foods that are grilled.
The Claim: Rosemary Helps Reduce Toxins in Grilled Meat: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/health/01real.html
Fried & Grilled Meat might Raise the Risk of Dementia: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/25/fried-grilled-meat-risk-diabetes-dementia-glycotoxins
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.