A diet with a limited red meat intake has always been recommended by physicians. Red meat, at its core, is not bad for you but too much of it may lead to health problems such as heart disease or an increased risk of cancer. A well-balanced, healthy diet filled with lean proteins or plant-based proteins is ideal but the meat itself may not be the culprit to an increased risk of cancer. In fact, it may actually be the way you cook your meat, not just red meat, that could be increasing your risk of cancer.
Grilling meat may produce a delicious flavor but that method of cooking may be putting your health at risk. In addition to grilling, pan-frying food may also increase your risk of cancer. The National Cancer Institute explains the science behind how your cooking methods may be increasing your risk of getting cancer, “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer. HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats…The formation of HCAs and PAHs varies by meat type, cooking method, and “doneness” level (rare, medium, or well done). Whatever the type of meat, however, meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300ºF (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs. For example, well done, grilled, or barbecued chicken and steak all have high concentrations of HCAs. Cooking methods that expose meat to smoke or charring contribute to PAH formation.” More specifically, the way you cook your meat may be increasing your risk of kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer… Studies have shown that exposure to HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animal models. In many experiments, rodents fed a diet supplemented with HCAs developed tumors of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate, and other organs. Rodents fed PAHs also developed cancers, including leukemia and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs. However, the doses of HCAs and PAHs used in these studies were very high—equivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet.”
So, where do you go from here? Can you never grill again? Of course not. Enjoying the occasional piece of grilled chicken is ok, much like the occasional bowl of ice cream. But, generally speaking, you should utilize other methods of cooking to prepare your meats to avoid increasing your risk of cancer. Generally avoid charring or burning meat and instead opt for cooking methods such as broiling, baking or slow cooking meat to avoid increasing your cancer risk. Additionally, limit your red meat intake and make a shift towards a more plant-based diet to improve your overall health.