By Dr. Nalini Chilkov
Is your barbecue turning your healthy food into toxic, cancer-causing poisons? Grilled food just might increase your cancer risk.
It’s summer and the barbecue is all fired up. You can smell it from your neighbors backyard and you are salivating. Don’t jump over the fence quite so fast. Think before you eat! The longer meat is cooked, the more dangerous it becomes.
Consider this: You are serving cancer-causing food from the grill.
The blackened areas on charred and grilled flesh foods (meat, poultry, fish) are a source of carcinogenic chemicals. These chemical directly damage DNA, our genetic material, and initiate mutations that can lead to the development of cancer.
When the proteins are heated to the point that the flesh starts to brown and blacken, you have the presence of heterocyclic amines (HCA), some of which are known carcinogens. HCAs form when extreme heat causes a chemical reaction between the amino acids naturally found in proteins and creatine found in muscle meats. HCAs are also found in broiled and well-done red meats. Other high-temperature cooking methods such as frying also produces these dangerous chemicals.
Diets with high exposures to HCAs are correlated with higher rates of cancers of the pancreas, colon and digestive tract. (Learn how to reduce risk of colon cancer naturally.)
HCAs can directly damage your DNA, initiating cancer. The highest levels of HCAs are found in grilled poultry, steaks, salmon grilled with the skin, well-done hamburgers and barbecued pork such as spare ribs.
And when the fat drips onto the coals and there is a flare, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another family that may contain carcinogens. are formed. The smoke carries these hydrocarbons and coat the food we eat. PAHs also form with charring. Exposure to PAHs are correlated with increased rates of stomach cancer.
Three groups of foods can form cancer-causing chemicals when grilled and blackened:
- all meats such as beef, lamb and pork
- poultry such as chicken and turkey
- fish and shellfish
What to do to keep your family safe?
The safest thing to do is to give up grilling, frying, cooking at high temperatures, and overcooked and well-done meats
- Cook with less intense heat and lower temperatures with all cooking methods
- Use hardwood chips from hickory and maple which burn cooler than softwoods such as pine and fir
- Use charcoal briquettes, which burn at lower temperatures
- Be sure to oil your grill to keep food from sticking
- Keep your grill clean
- Scrape off all the charred residue every time you cook so that you don’t transfer carcinogenic chemicals to your food the next time you use it
- Avoid well-done meats
- Avoid the blackened and charred areas
- Use lower temperatures on the grill
- Use thinner cuts, which cook quickly
- Flip the filets before they are charred
- Trim the fat before cooking
- Use leaner cuts
- Remove the skin from chicken and salmon
- Defrost all meat before grilling
- Cut meats up into cubes, which cook very quickly
- Don’t cook directly over coals, move them to the side
- Keep the grill rack farther away from the food rather then right on top of the coals
- Avoid having flames come in contact with the food
- Use a drip rack to catch the fat
- Remove food from the grill as soon as it is cooked
- Don’t put cooked food back onto plates used for raw meat, poultry or fish due to bacteria
Use Alternate Cooking Methods
- Bake (but do not overcook)
- Cook with liquid: boil, steam, poach, stew
- Slow-cook food at low temperatures in the oven so that it is thoroughly cooked and moist and then put it on the grill briefly to just sear it.
- Marinated foods produce less HCAs and PAHs when cooked. Some research shows that marinating your meats not only makes them taste better, but also reduces the production of carcinogens.
- Marinades include olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, orange juice, garlic, salt, pepper, cooking wine, herbs and spices
- Remember that extra marinade that you may want to use as sauce must be heated thoroughly for at least three minutes before serving over cooked food to kill any bacteria present from being in contact with uncooked meat, poultry or fish.
Always marinate food in the refrigerator to keep levels of bacteria low.
Eat More Colorful Fruits And Vegetables
Plant-based diets contain the fewest cancer promoters. Plant-based diets also provide an abundance of cancer-fighting plant chemicals. Plant-based diets reduce oxidative stress that leads to DNA damage. Plant-based diets lead to lower levels of inflammation which is an environment that is protective to the cells and the DNA, inhibiting cancer rather than promoting it.
Try grilling vegetables and fruits, which do not form cancer-causing chemicals when cooked at high heats.
Try grilled asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, eggplants, onions, portobello mushrooms, even mangoes brushed with a little olive oil. Try soy burgers and veggie burgers instead of meat.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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