BBQ Places is a new category we recently set up but a lot of people have already been asking us, is barbecuing healthy at all? They apparently have read an article or two claiming that grilled food may cause certain types of cancers. How do doctors and health professionals respond to this claim? Is it true? If it is true, what can you do to prevent it? If you love barbecuing so much and cannot just let it go, what measures can you take instead?
The Current Evidence
Look it up and you will see a recurring idea: grilled food just might increase your cancer risk. Why and how, you ask? A combination of smoke and direct flame contact with the food increases the cancer risk, alongside the type of food we tend to cook on the barbecue. Again, it increases the risk but it does not mean that if you eat grilled food you will have cancer right away.
In recent years, a growing body of research has found that cooking meat over a flame increases our exposure to carcinogens. Carcinogens are substances that increase your risk of developing cancers. Tobacco smoke is the most popular carcinogen in general. However, in terms of barbecuing, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the culprits. Diets with high exposures to HCAs are correlated with higher incidences of pancreas, colon, and the digestive tract cancers.
How HCAs and PAHs are Formed
Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods. These methods include, but are not limited to, pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. HCAs and PAHs are caused by a combination of smoke and direct flame contact with the food, so barbecuing poses more risk.
Again, these are studies that claim a correlation exists but not a direct cause and effect relationship. That being said, you still can barbecue once in a while. Also, do see your primary care physician to ask for diet modifications. Here are some measures you can attempt in order to lower HCAs and PAHs:
- Cook with less intense heat and lower temperatures
- Be sure to oil your grill to keep food from sticking
- Scrape off all the charred residue every time you cook
- Avoid well-done types of meat
- Avoid the blackened and charred areas
- Use thinner cuts or cut into cubes, both of which will allow cooking quickly
- Don’t cook directly over coals
- Keep the grill rack farther away from the food
- Avoid having flames come in contact with the food
- Remove food from the grill as soon as it is cooked
We also suggest eating more green leafy vegetables. In addition, increasing the fiber in your diet has also found to be effective in preventing cancers of the digestive tract. If still in doubt, just host a barbecue less frequently. Stick around to find out more on how you can barbecue in a healthier way!