Is Barbecuing Bad for You?
In today’s world, we are bombarded by toxins and potentially dangerous chemicals daily. Eating a bit of barbecued meat can’t be deadly, can it? According to the most current research and the American Cancer Society, barbecued meat does contain carcinogens; however, as with so many enjoyable things in life, moderation is key.
The primary culprits are HCAs (heterocyclic amines), which are recognized carcinogens that form when meat is cooked on hot surfaces at high temperatures, and Benzo[a]pyrene, found mainly in the smoke released from cooking. Primarily, these mutagens develop in overcooked, charcoal barbecued meat. A 2001 National Cancer Institute study found levels to be significantly higher in foods that were cooked to “well-done” on the barbecue.
Meat contains protein, which is made up of amino acids. When meat exposed to the heat of grilling, barbecuing and frying, HCAs are created. Several human studies suggest there is an increased risk for breast and colorectal cancers related to consuming foods that contain these carcinogens. Consuming large quantities of barbecued red meat can also increase your risk of colon polyps, which can develop into colon cancer.
Ideally, you want your meat to be cooked on the rare side, but you also want to reduce your risk for food poisoning. In the case of barbecuing, buying grass fed, organic meat can be more beneficial for your health than conventionally raised meat. Not only will the grass-fed meat be healthier for you, but it won’t have to be overcooked to be safe to eat! Grass fed beef or pastured poultry is higher in healthy omega-3 fats, and grass fed beef may be up to four times higher in vitamin E than beef from feedlot cattle. It is also much higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may have cancer fighting properties. Beef from steers raised on forages had 550% more CLA …compared with beef from steers fed typical feedlot high grain diet.(1) By consuming beef from a grass-fed cow that was allowed to live a healthy, natural life, the meat will be much more nutritious and less likely be contaminated with harmful pathogens abundant in commercially farmed beef. Choosing grass-fed, organic meat allows you the confidece to eat safely by knowing that your meat was raised in a healthy, more natural environment.
Tips on How to Avoid Exposure to HCAs
- Keep the heat low, and raise the grill above the heat, away from the charcoal or embers.
- Keep meat away from direct heat.
- Avoid charring or burning meat.
- Marinate. Marinating has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs. Research has shown that an olive oil, lemon juice and garlic marinade cut HCA levels in chicken by as much as 90%.(2) Six hours of marinating in beer or red wine cut levels of two types of HCA in beef steak by up to 88% compared with unmarinated steak.(3)
- Remove any burned parts of the meat before eating.
- Add grilled fruit and veggies to your plate. They’ll provide a healthy dose of antioxidants!
(1)Dhiman TR, Nam SH, Ure AL. Factors affecting conjugated linoleic acid content in milk and meat. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2005;45(6):463-82.
(2)Salmon CP, Knize MG, Felton JS. Effects of marinating on heterocyclic amine carcinogen formation in grilled chicken. Food Chem Toxicol. 1997 May;35(5):433-41.
(3)Melo A, Viegas O, Petisca C, Pinho O, Ferreira IM. J Agric Food Chem. Effect of beer/red wine marinades on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in pan-fried beef.2008;56(22):10625-32.
About the author
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980's, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.
To learn more, please visit www.dreliaz.org.