Cooking and dining outdoors may be enjoyable when the weather is warm. But before you fire up the grill at a backyard barbecue or a game-day tailgate, and reach for steaks, burgers or chicken, there’s something you should know: Research has shown that turning up the heat on meat can cause cancer-causing substances to form.
Here’s what that means and how to have a more healthful cookout.
1. Grilled meat is too dangerous – avoid it completely.
Meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, carnitine, arachidonic acid and heme iron.1-4 Several large, long-term studies have linked high-animal protein diets to greater risk of premature death.3,5,6 However, when you barbecue meat, you take it to a new level of danger.
Related: Eat Plant Protein to Live Longer
When grilled or cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds are formed.
Carcinogens in meats include:
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish during the cooking process. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increase HCA production.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – These carcinogens form when meat is cooked over an open flame. When meat juices drip and the flame touches the meat, PAHs are formed.
- N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) or nitrosamines – These are not formed during cooking. These are formed in the mouth and stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives found in processed meats.7 Processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages should be completely avoided. NOCs are potent carcinogens.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization, processed meats are carcinogenic to humans and red meats are probably carcinogenic to humans.8 Both are strongly linked to colorectal cancer risk.9 In addition, a high intake of processed meat is associated with heart disease, stroke and diabetes.10,11
Even if you choose to eat animal products once in a while or use them as a condiment, you should still never eat processed meat, and never eat meat grilled or barbecued – it’s too risky.
National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk.
IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat.
Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer.
Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
2. You can grill vegetables safely and deliciously