3 Things you need to know about barbecuing

September 01, 2020 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

Health Concerns: Cancer

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

Video: What You Need to Know About Protein

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.

Sources:
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

Fortunately, you don’t have to throw away your grill. But it shouldn’t be your main mode of cooking either. The only thing that can be grilled safely are vegetables and even then not until they darken, and not too frequently, since there are safer and healthier ways to cook vegetables.   

Marinated vegetables, mushroom and bean burgers are safe and delicious choices. 

You can fill a grill basket with your favorite sliced vegetables or make vegetable skewers. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow summer squash all combine well, but get creative with your top picks or seasonal harvests. Their high moisture content will prevent burning.

But . . .

3. Don’t let your veggies brown!

Try blending spices with walnuts and a bit of your favorite vinegar and brush it on the veggies while on the grill. When grilling starchy vegetables soak or marinate them first in a water-vinegar mix to increase their water content. This will minimize the production of acrylamide, which is a cooking-related carcinogen formed when starches are dry cooked at high temperatures.12 Acrylamide is considered probably carcinogenic to humans by the IARC. The foods responsible for the greatest exposure to acrylamide are potato chips, French fries, and dry cooked starchy foods like baked goods and breakfast cereals, plus a small amount from coffee.12 Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increase acrylamide production. Liquid-based cooking – soups, stews, and water-sauteeing – is safer, since the moisture prevents the chemical reaction that forms acrylamide. Avoid eating the darkened portions of grilled vegetables to limit acrylamide intake.

Video: (free for members) Acrylamide

Source:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food

Action items: 
Grill corn on the cob in the husk, rotating frequently. The layer of husk will minimize browning of the edible portion. Then remove the husk and sprinkle with your favorite no-salt seasonings. 

Make your own nutritious veggie burgers from whole foods: beans, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and onions.  Store-bought veggie burgers often have added oil and salt and concentrated soy protein. 


Recipe: Veggie-Bean Burgers.

Portobello mushrooms are a delicious, satisfying, and easy alternative to homemade burgers.


Recipe: Portobello Red Pepper Sandwich 
 

 
References
  1. National Cancer Institute: Food Sources of Arachidonic Acid [http://appliedresearch.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/fatty_acids/table4.html]

  2. Koeth RA, Wang Z, Levison BS, et al. Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med 2013, 19:576-585.

  3. Levine ME, Suarez JA, Brandhorst S, et al. Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. Cell Metab 2014, 19:407-417.

  4. Brewer GJ. Risks of copper and iron toxicity during aging in humans. Chemical research in toxicology 2010, 23:319-326.

  5. Lagiou P, Sandin S, Weiderpass E, et al. Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and mortality in a cohort of Swedish women. J Intern Med 2007, 261:366-374.

  6. Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, et al. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med 2016.

  7. National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk.

  8. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. Press Relsease No. 240. IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. 2015.

  9. Continuous Update Project Interim Report Summary.  Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer. . World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research.; 2011.

  10. Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation 2010, 121:2271-2283.

  11. Chen GC, Lv DB, Pang Z, Liu QF. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013, 67:91-95.

  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products [http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/ChemicalContaminants/ucm053549.htm]

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
 
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

 

Comments (0):

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TaraScott

09/16/2020 12:40 PM

Clear, concise and easy to understand. Thank you Joel for your ongoing presentation of the true "good life" and how to attain and then sustain it. 

anon replies:

09/19/2020 03:15 PM

TaraScott:

I don't know who you are, but unless you are a friend of Dr. Fuhrman, shoudln't you address him that way (i.e., as "Dr. Fuhrman")?  Seems disrespectful to call him by his first name like that.

- Rhonda Kellam

susan88

09/16/2020 02:19 PM

we don't like to grill at all so that is why I don't grill but I sent it on to people who do grill thank you

gejdad

09/16/2020 02:30 PM

Is a griddle safer to use than a grill?