This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.
FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES TO ENJOY GRILLED MEATS SAFELY
Now that another barbecue season is about to begin, are you worried about the dangers of eating grilled meats? Should you panic if you mindlessly eat that severely burned hot dog the kids wouldn’t touch? Is the risk of ordering a well-done burger worse than making yours extra rare?
Like most health alerts, the issues surrounding meat cooked on the grill are a long story that has been reduced to sensationalized headlines. There is no reason to abandon this summertime ritual, but there are some things you need to know to make your cookouts healthier for everyone.
What Happens When You Grill Meat?
Protein-rich foods, like meat muscle, contain amino acids, creatine and some sugars that can react under certain conditions. Depending on the type of meat (it could be beef, pork, poultry or fish) and the cooking time (longer is more problematic), temperature (usually over 300 degrees F) and method being used (grill or stove-top frying pan), a chemical reaction can occur that causes the formation of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
Other compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in the flames that flare up when fats and juices from meats being cooked over an open grill drip into the fire. These PAHs can adhere to the surface of the foods being cooked above the flames. They are also formed during food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats, and are found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.
What Does the Research Say About Eating Grilled Meats?
Now here comes the troubling part. Research found laboratory animals exposed to large amounts of HCAs and PAHs developed cancer. In the studies rodent diets were supplemented with very high levels to HCAs and PAHs – thousands of times greater than a person would consume in a normal diet. Also worth noting is the lab animals were not actually fed grilled meats because it is too difficult to measure the exact amount of these compounds in them. The rat chow was fortified with the stuff.
No population studies – the kind that look at a group of individuals who share common traits – have established a definitive link between exposure to HCAs and PAHs from cooked meats and cancer in humans. However, epidemiological studies have found an association. These studies gather information from large groups of people who have nothing in common and look for common traits. What they found was the people who reported eating the most well-done, fried or barbecued meats had the greatest risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. That is not evidence of causation. Many other factors could have increased their risk, including environmental exposure to PAHs from air pollution.
What Are the Guidelines for Eating Grilled Meats?
The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research issued a report in 2007 that recommended limiting the consumption of red and processed meats, including smoked meats, but made no recommendations about the HCA and PAH levels in meat. There are currently no federal guidelines on the consumption of grilled meats or HCAs and PAHs.
Advice for Grilling Meats
- Raise the grill rack away from the heat source
- Wait until flames die down so they won’t burn meat surfaces
- Place aluminum foil on the grill to reduce exposure to flames
- Cut meat into smaller pieces and skewer so it cooks faster
- Select thinner steaks and chops that will cook faster
- Buy leaner cuts of meat so there is less fat to cause flare ups
- Precook meats to reduce the cooking time on the grill
- Marinate to help lower HCA production
- Turn meat frequently so surfaces don’t char
- Scrape off charred areas