By Cynthia Hill, NTP
As the first hint of summer makes its slow arrival in the Midwest, I step outside late afternoon to enjoy the warming temps. Immediately I begin to smell the most wonderful intoxicating scent. It takes my brain a moment to identify what it is – oh yes! someone in the neighborhood has fired up their grill – the unmistakable smoky aroma of backyard grilling, summer and happiness! I realize momentarily how I have missed the smell & taste of grilled foods throughout the long winter months. Now this tantalizing scent beckons me, beckons me to release our own grill from its winter cover and start planning a meal around it. But wait… isn’t grilling food bad for you???
Grilling in general and especially grilled meat has had its share of bad press lately. With the onset of warmer weather the warnings about the dangers of grilling and barbecuing return, and how doing so contributes to the formation of carcinogens (PAHs) and mutagens (HCA) in our food.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present in the smoke created from fat dripping onto hot coals. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when amino acids, sugars and creatine in meat react with heat. Does grilling generate enough of these carcinogenic compounds to pose a threat to our health and steer clear of the grill forever? Mark Sisson, primal living expert, and author of the Primal Blueprint writes he may have “overstated the danger of the carcinogenic compounds found in charred meat”. In his article “How Bad is Charred Meat, Really?” he references numerous studies that show the doses of HCA in animal testing to be 1000s of times higher than what we would get from grilling. (The National Cancer Institute also suggests that both HCA and PAH dosing in animal models is thousands of times higher than what we would consume in our diet).
Author Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, “The Naughty Nutritionist” states “it’s a myth that HCAs are mostly found in fried or grilled beef, poultry and fish.” Her post “Barbecue Meat a Safer Choice than Packaged Protein Foods” explains why we are more likely to get more carcinogenic HCAs from processed and fast foods than from the grill.
This leaves me with a burning question from an ancestral point of view – man has been grilling for a very very long time. If it is so bad for us, why do the carcinogenic effects only appear to have happened in the last 150 years? We must consider our current diet of high PUFAs, processed foods, grain fed animals and environmental toxicity as contributing factors.
Would I eat grilled foods every day? probably not as with most things moderation is key. I will continue though, to eat a cancer fighting nutrient dense whole foods diet (including plenty of protective vegetables) that supports optimal health and immune function which is always our best defense!
The following suggestions from the The National Cancer Institute may reduce HCA and PAH formation while grilling:
- Avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoiding prolonged cooking times (especially at high temps) can redue HCA and PHA formation.
- Continuously turning meat over on a high heat source can substantially reduce HCA formation compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often.
- Removing charred portions of meat and refraining from using gravy made from meat drippings.
Trimming the fat, and using marinades with herbs/spices and an acid component like vinegar or citrus offers protection also.
Avoid overcooking and processed meats as they already contain cancer causing preservative substances.
So will I be firing up the grill this Summer? You betcha!
Sincerely in Health,
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