Ten ways to lower your cancer risk when eating barbecue

Ten ways to lower your cancer risk when eating barbecue

If you plan on eating grilled food frequently, experts suggest small steps that make a big difference in reducing your exposure to cancer-related substances.

Many people would be surprised to learn that grilling food carries potential cancer risks. But each year the American Institute for Cancer Research publishes guidelines for “safely grilling against cancer,” warning consumers to avoid two types of substances that are linked to cancer.

These compounds, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, are generated when food, especially meat, is grilled. They have not been proven to cause cancer in people, but laboratory studies have shown that they alter DNA in a way that can lead to cancer.

“Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when any type of organic matter”, especially the fat that runs off the meat and goes down to the grill, “is burned, because the carbon inside is being burned in the flames, and these hydrocarbons are carried in the smoke. “, said Rashmi Sinha, senior researcher in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the US National Cancer Institute. The resulting smoke can envelop the meat and coat it with potentially carcinogenic substances.

The black coals we see on grills and in barbecues are heterocyclic amines, or AHCs, which occur when high temperatures encounter muscle meat, which includes red meat (pork, beef, lamb, goat), poultry (turkey, chicken) and fish.

“Grilling or even deep frying causes the amino acids in meat to react with another substance found in meat called creatine,” said Colleen Doyle, managing director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society and a registered dietitian. Creatine is found only in muscle meat.

“It’s the reaction of these amino acids and creatine that form AHCs, which is why we don’t see AHCs form when we grill asparagus, squash, peppers and other vegetables.”

As with most lifestyle choices related to increasing or decreasing cancer risk, the dose makes the poison. Which means if you’re grilling it once or twice a year, don’t worry. But if you plan on grilling frequently — once or twice a week during the summer, say — experts suggest taking a few small steps to make a big difference in reducing your exposure to these compounds.

1. Think less about hamburgers

Grill fish, seafood, poultry or plant-based foods instead of red meat and especially processed meats like sausages. The WHO (World Health Organization) considers processed meats to be carcinogenic and red meat a probable carcinogen.

Although AHCs still form when grilling fish and seafood, Doyle pointed out that you typically don’t need to cook seafood as long as meat and chicken, which reduces the buildup of the substance.

2. Marine first

Research suggests that marinating food for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of AHCs in meat, poultry and fish. The reason for this is not entirely clear to researchers, but one possibility is a sort of shield effect.

“If you basically put a barrier of sugar and oil between the meat and the heat, it’s the meat that gets browned, rather than the meat,” said Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute of Cancer Research. This also makes the meat more flavorful.

3. Make vegetables the star

Many types of fruits and vegetables are actually protective against cancer risk and do not form AHCs when grilled. Several experts recommend using seasoned meat. Think about alternating chicken cubes with peppers and onions or peach and pineapple on skewers, for example.

This trick, which also works when frying, reduces the surface area of ​​the meat exposed to the hot surface, Brockton explained, as the meat also touches other ingredients during the cooking process.

4. Cherish herbs and spices

According to Brockton, cooking meat with herbs, spices, tea, peppers and the like — ingredients with phenolic compounds — can be a useful approach because “they appear to contain the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds because of the ingredients’ antioxidant properties.”

5. Be careful with smoke

Try to minimize the amount of smoke you breathe in, recommends Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, as part of a helpful resource on healthy practices at summer picnics.

6. Avoid charring

The crispy black crust you often see on the bony edges of ribs or steaks likely contains a higher concentration of potentially carcinogenic substances. Doyle also recommends cleaning the grates in advance to remove any previously generated charcoal.

7. Reduce the time on the grill

“The longer you cook something, the longer the chemical reaction takes, the greater the amount of AHCs formed,” Brockton said. If you partially pre-cook the meat, either by roasting or in the microwave, the layer of AHCs that forms will not be as thick.

The same goes for meat cut into smaller pieces, like on skewers, because it cooks faster. Grilling in foil can also help protect food from smoke and speed up cooking times, according to the Harvard resource on healthy picnics.

8. Prefer hardwoods over softwoods

“Wood types can influence AHC formation,” said Doyle. “Hardwoods such as walnut and maple and charcoal burn at lower temperatures than softwoods such as pine. Cooking with wood that burns at a lower temperature is desirable.”

9. Reduce the fuel for the fire

To minimize exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, experts recommend selecting leaner cuts of meat or trimming any visible fat, which can decrease the amount that runs off the grills and back into the smoke. To minimize dripping, Doyle suggests not puncturing the meat while it’s on the grill.

10. Turn the meat often

According to guidance from the National Cancer Institute, fewer AHCs are formed if you turn the meat frequently while roasting over high heat.

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