From barbecues to campfires, grilling over a flame is a tasty way to cook food. It’s one of the best summer activities! But is it even safe for you?
Burnt meat might be flavorful, but it has chemicals that increase your risk for cancer. Of course, other factors like smoking and exercise still matter. It’s also vital to know that studies look at chemical levels that are thousands of times greater than typical human consumption.
Yet, it never hurts to be careful. About 35 percent of cancer cases is associated with diet. It’s about as high as smoking, which contributes 30 percent! Clearly, diet has a big influence.1
Here are three reasons why eating burnt meat isn’t good for you.
1. Heterocyclic Amines
When meat is heated at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are created. HCAs
HCAs develop when amino acids, sugars, and creatine are exposed to high heat. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein, while creatine is from muscle.
So, what counts as high temperature? The National Cancer Institute shares that temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit form the most HCAs. This includes cooking methods such as grilling or pan frying. Additionally, cooking meat for a longer time will also boost HCA levels.2
In fact, according to the Journal of National Cancer Institute, well-done chicken and pork produces high levels of HCAs. Very well-done beefsteak has the same effect.3
2. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Cooking over flames might look cool, but it’s dangerous for your health. The flames have mutagenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. They can stick to the surface of meat. Smoking and charring techniques will also induce PAH formation.4
PAHs aren’t technically carcinogens. Instead, they bind to DNA and cause cellular interruptions, which promotes tumor development.
PAHs can accumulate in our soft tissues. The scary part is that they’re the ninth most dangerous chemical for humans.5
Aside from charred meat, you can find them in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.6
3. Meat Consumption
Red meat is typically part of high-energy, high-fat diets. It matters what you eat with red meat, after all.
However, researchers also think that red meat contains potentially carcinogenic substances, like N-nitroso compounds. Some become carcinogenic once they’re metabolized, while others are carcinogenic to begin with.
Beyond these compounds, meat also has other substances that contribute to cancer. These include substances like salt, nitrates, heme iron, and saturated fat.
For instance, processed meat increases the risk for lung cancer by 16 percent. Red and processed meat is also linked to pancreatic cancer risk in men.
As you can see, meat holds a potential for cancer – whether or not you grill it. Once you burn it to a crisp, the risk for cancer amplifies.7
What About Non-Meat Foods?
HCAs are primarily found in charred or burnt meat.
To avoid HCAs and PAHs, don’t overcook meat. Keep a close watch on the flame and be mindful of cooking time. Plus, PAHs can form when juices and fat drip onto a flame. Make it a point to limit droppings and contact with open flames.8
|↑1, ↑7||Genkinger, Jeanine M., and Anita Koushik. “Meat consumption and cancer risk.” PLoS Med 4, no. 12 (2007): e345.|
|↑2, ↑4, ↑6, ↑8||Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑3||Norrish, Alan E., Lynnette R. Ferguson, Mark G. Knize, James S. Felton, Susan J. Sharpe, and Rodney T. Jackson. “Heterocyclic amine content of cooked meat and risk of prostate cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 91, no. 23 (1999): 2038-2044.|
|↑5||Ifegwu, Okechukwu Clinton, and Chimezie Anyakora. “Chapter Six-Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Part I. Exposure.” Advances in clinical chemistry 72 (2015): 277-304.|