Know it, to control it

Barbequed foods and stomach /colon cancer

TDuring summer, many people like to barbeque food outdoors on charcoal grills. Meats are an essential, common barbeque menu item. Charring meats at high temperatures using barbeque grills have now been established as a risk for cancer, especially stomach and colon cancers.

There is strong evidence that the likely cause is the blackened areas on charred and grilled meat, poultry, and fish, which are loaded with carcinogenic chemicals. These chemicals directly damage DNA present in the genes and initiate mutations that can lead to the development of cancer.

The culprit chemical carcinogens have been identified to be some heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed when meat proteins are heated to the point that the flesh starts to brown and blacken. HCAs are formed when extreme heat from flaming hot barbeque grills causes a chemical reaction between the amino acids naturally found in proteins and creatine found in muscle meats.

HCAs can also occur in well-done red meats when cooked at other high-temperature cooking methods such as frying. Frequent consumption of such cooking methods on a regular basis has been associated with high rates of stomach and colon cancers. The risk decreases when consuming barbequed meats is infrequent and limited to occasions.

Searing meats until done is better than charring until they are well done or blackened. One way to do this is to barbeque meats at lower temperatures. If flames are leaping from the barbeque grill it is likely that the meats will blacken promoting a risk for stomach and colon cancers. Meat cuts with a lot of fat must be kept away from flames as they melt and burn faster under high temperatures, and tend to char adjoining flesh.

Cancer causing chemicals are observed more in red meats and processed meats such as those that are salted, smoked, or cured. Red meats are anyway associated with a risk for colon cancer. This has prompted the World Health Organization to recommend up to three servings of red meat per week.

Tips to barbeque safely

  • Do not barbeque processed meats including bacon, ham, salami, sausages, pepparoni, and hot dogs to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Reduce red meat like pork, lamb and beef (including hamburgers) consumption by replacing with skinless chicken breasts and fish
  • Avoid charring or burning meat, poultry or fish until black by lowering temperature of the barbeque grill
  • Precook meats in microwave or oven and finish them on the barbeque grill
  • Use a marinade for just 30 minutes rather than overnight,in vinegar, lemon juice, or yoghurt along with herbs such as mint, rosemary, tarragon or sage that can reduce HCA formation by as much as 96%
  • Lean cuts of meat are safer than fatty meat cuts. Trim fat before cooking as the fat falling to the charcoal produces PAHs in the ensuing smoke
  • Clean barbeque grill after every use

Enjoy summers responsibly!