If you are like me then you enjoy eating grilled meat. I know, eating red meat isn’t going to be healthy, but I still enjoy it and I long ago decided that eating, in moderation, the foods I enjoy is a trade off I am willing to do as I live my life. However, I am willing to make some modifications that still allow me to eat what I enjoy, and yet minimize the additional my decisions might pose.

It is important to understand about why cooking meat at high temperatures, like on the open flame of a BBQ, pose an increased cancer and general health risk. Researchers believe that cooking the meat at very high temperatures 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 the meat, increasing their health risks to individuals consuming the meat.

The inter-reaction between the amino acids, sugars and creatine, when cooked with high temperatures causes the creation of the HCAs. When the fats and juices from the meats grilled over fire melt and fall down PAHs are formed. (A side point- The development of the HCAs and PAHs is not specific to charred meat because they also develop in other charred foods, smoke from cigarettes and even in fumes emitted by vehicles).

Now, the bad news is that researcher believe that when meat is 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. Our eating meat that has been exposed to open flames and smoke has also been linked to the increased concentrations of the carcinogenic HCAs and PAHs.

In rat studies when researchers fed grilled meat to the rats they developed tumors in their lungs, liver, skin, colon, prostrate and skin. In the case of the rats the charred foods cause DNA changes that lead to the development of cancers.

Of course, we are not rats and so our drawing a direct link between grilled food and cancer based on these studies should create some hesitation in our mind. I believe that there have been enough studies that have established the link between the two, but the extent to which these foods are responsible for cancer is yet to be established. Like all other cancer causation and prevention studies we can not isolate one factor and determine that it is the “responsible” factor as we all have many exposures to other cancer causing agents. Thus, it is impossible to determine the actual level of toxicity the eating of the charred food actually presents.

For example the eating patterns of all of us differ greatly from each other. Our general life style and our genetic makeup also vary, thus defining an exact cause of our cancer, even understanding our personal risk factors, is impossible. This means that there is no direct evidence that allows us to draw a direct causation between the eating of charred red meat and the development of cancer. However, the rat studies to provide us with some indirect evidence that should raise our level of awareness.

So, should we simply ignore the indirect evidence? No, but perhaps there are things that we can do that will decrease the possible risk factors without our being required to deny the things in our life that we enjoy, for what is the purpose of our life if it is without enjoyment? To this end we can:

  • Limit your consumption of red meat.
  • Avoid meat that involves it becoming charred.
  • Avoid red meat that is cooked over the flames/ambers.
  • Cook meats in microwave or put semi-cooked foods on the fire to lessen the exposure to flames.
  • Frequently flip over the meat when on direct heat.
  • Cut off the charred portions from the meat before you serve it.
  • Always use lean meat for cooking.
  • Avoid the intake of gravy made from dripped liquids from the meat.
  • Use your special marinate on the meat before cooking, as it increases the flavor of the meat and it creates a film between the flames and the meat, reducing the building up of the bad 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.

Also, remember that deep fried foods increase your risk of developing stomach cancers, so limit or cut out those foods.

Nutritionists tell us that the best way to live a healthy life is to eat boiled food as they go a long way in reducing our cancer risks. But this does ignore the living life to enjoy principle, so think about these guidelines, make your choices with your eyes completely open and let the concept of moderation be your guide.