Many consider eating grilled meat as a healthy alternative to cooked meat. However, the recent studies suggest something contrary. Researchers believe that cooking the meat at a very high temperatures, including grilling directly on open fire, causes the building up of Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the muscles of the meat. These two chemicals are mutagenic and thus, alter the natural properties of meat.
Factors causing development of HCAs and PAHs
HCAs form due to the inter-reaction between amino acids, sugars and creatine when cooked in high temperatures. PAHs on the other hand form when fats and juices from the meats grilled over fire melt and fall down. This causes the flaming of these liquids that stick around the meat. The development of the HCAs and PAHs is not specific to charred meat. They also develop in other charred foods, smoke of the cigarettes and even in fumes emitted by the vehicles.
Health risks of grilled meats
Researcher have found that the meat cooked over 300 degree temperature or for a prolonged period and the cooking methods like grilling, pan-frying, roasting, smoking and barbecuing leads to unusually high concentration of HCAs and PAHs in it. The exposure of meat to flames and smoke also links to the increased concentration. The more you expose the meat to heat, greater are the chances of concentration of these chemicals. Both HCAs and PAHs are carcinogenic.
When they fed the grilled meat to the rats in laboratory experimentation, it caused tumors in lungs, liver, skin, colon, prostrate and skin. These charred foods cause changes in DNA and lead to the development of cancers. The researchers further suggest that another carcinogenic chemical, acrylamide, build up from the burning of sugars and proteins in the meats, though the long-term studies to verify the fact are still under way.
Problems in the study
Drawing a direct link between grilled food and cancer definitely creates hesitation in our mind. Studies have certainly established the link between the two, but the extent to which these foods are responsible for cancer is yet to be established. The problem is that a person might have exposure to other cancer causing agents as well and thus, it is difficult to determine to what extend the consumption of charred food is responsible for it.
In addition, the food pattern of the respondents differs greatly from each other. Other factors like life style, genetic makeup of each one of us vary greatly, thus finding the exact cause can be quiet difficult. Hence, there are no practical evidences to draw a direct relationship between the two. However, we have indirect evidence. For example, researchers associate consumption of burgers with seventy-nine percent increase in risk of prostate cancer.
- Avoid meat that involves charring process or cooking over the flames/ambers.
- Prefer to cook meats in microwave or put semi-cooked foods on fire to lessen the exposure to flames.
- Flip over the meat when on direct heat frequently.
- Remove the charred portions from the meat.
- Use lean meat for cooking by direct heating method.
- Avoid the intake of gravy made from dripped liquids from the meat.
- Marinate the meat before cooking, as they create a film between the flames and the meat and thus, reduce the building up of chemicals.
- Use alternative cooking methods like propane flames and placing an aluminum foil on the grill bars to create insulation between the flames and the meat.
The best way to live a healthy life is to take boiled food and moderately fried foods, as recent researches have related even the deep-fried meat to high risks of stomach cancer. Healthy eating choices, low in fats, can go a long way in reducing your chances of developing cancers.