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Tuesday , September 18th 2018

Barbecued meats can be cancer causing

By Veita Bland, M.D. / July 8, 2016

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When meat is cooked over an open flame the muscle protein reacts with the heat to form compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).  These HCAs have been shown to change the genetic structure of the meat and cause cancers.

When meat is cooked over an open flame the muscle protein reacts with the heat to form compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These HCAs have been shown to change the genetic structure of the meat and cause cancers.

Summer is finally here. For some that means barbecue time. Let us not forget those die-hard people who barbecue all year round in the snow or ice, but most of us barbecue predominantly in the warmer months. It becomes a ritual. We await that invitation to that special event. There are festivals in honor of barbecue and even circuits of professionals who win money using their skills on the grill.

But you know me, even though I enjoy a barbecue meal just as much as the next person, we need to think about how healthy is this meal? How healthy is the meat prepared that way?

Dr. Alfred Neugut of Columbia University Medical Center and the Mailman School of Public Health has written a very concise article that adresses this topic. Dr. Neugut reminds us of the fact that when meat, poultry or fish is cooked over flames or very high temperatures, the muscle protein reacts with the heat to form compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These HCAs have been shown to change the genetic structure or DNA and cause cancers. Many studies have linked the consumption of meats that are grilled to an increased risk of colon, prostate, pancreatic stomach and breast cancers. This is particularly so when meats are well cooked.

Other compounds produced when we grill are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are formed when the fat and juices from meat fall into the fire and are ignited to make smoke. That smoke contains PAH’s which are then deposited onto the surface of the meat. (Our beloved smoke ring on the food) The PAHs are also formed when we char food and when we smoke meats. They are also found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust.

The amounts of the PAHs and HCAs are also dependent on the types of meats prepared and how well done they are cooked, with well-done being the worse. Definitely grilling or pan frying above 300 degrees F contributes to the formation of these compounds.

Dr. Neugut reminds us that there are ways to decrease your exposure to these compounds.

Avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or metal surface. Avoid prolonged cooking times especially at high temperatures.

Cook meats at a lower temperature, below 325, for a longer time. This can be accomplished by lowering the temperature or letting the charcoal burn down to the embers.
Use a microwave oven to partially cook the meat. This will shorten the time the meat is exposed to the high temperatures.

Pat the meat dry after microwaving to decrease the amount of dripping of fluids into the flame.

Continuously turn the meat.

Remove the charred pieces and refrain from making gravy from those meat drippings. (So hard.)

Use only lean meats and cut off any fat and remove the skin. This is healthier and will prevent the flare ups.

Use marinades. Research has shown that using a marinade of apple cider vinegar, lemon, olive oil and spices on chicken breast can reduce the formation of cancer causing chemicals by 90 percent.

Use lots of spices. Studies have shown that rolling the meat in spices such as turmeric and rosemary can cut down on HCA production.

Shield the meat from the heat and smoke. Place tin foil around it and poke a few holes in the foil. The foil will shield the meat from the smoke which contains the PAHs.
Increase the distance from the heat source. This will lower the amount of heat to the meat. Raise the grilling surface and place the charcoal over to the side away from the meat.

Add vegetables to your grill. They do not form HCAs and are lower in calories.

Use smaller portions of meat, fish or chicken. The smaller portions will cook faster and require less time on the grill.

Make sure you clean your grill well after each use to make sure you have removed any charred food from the grill.

We can grill and barbecue in a healthier way. The question here is whether we are willing to make these changes to have healthier grilled or barbecued meats.


Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Email Dr. Bland at ideas@blandclinicpa.com.




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