Hot weather and outdoor living means firing up the outdoor grill in many homes. Yet, before you throw that burger or steak on the barbecue, be aware research has shown that turning up the heat on meat can cause potentially cancer-causing substances to form.
Meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, arachidonic acid and heme iron.1-4 When grilled or even cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds are also formed.
Formed in meats cooked at high temperatures
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish as a reaction between creatinine amino acids and glucose. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increases HCA production
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – formed from flames and smoke; when meat juices drip and flame hits meat
N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – formed in the stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives, found in processed meats
To minimize these harms, limit your portions consistent with a Nutritarian diet. Use only small amounts of meat mixed in with a bean burger and some mushrooms and onion. The phytates in the beans sop up the hydroxyl radicals and excess iron from the meat, reducing its toxicity. Also, anti-cancer foods like onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs.5-8
Processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages should be completely avoided. NOCs are potent carcinogens. There is convincing evidence that processed meats (and red meats) are a cause of colorectal cancers, and high intake of processed meat is also associated with heart disease, stroke and diabetes.9-12
Fortunately, you don’t have to throw away your grill. Marinated vegetables, mushroom and bean burgers are safe and delicious choices. For those who choose to grill meat, do it with caution and only do it occasionally.
National Cancer Institute: Food Sources of Arachidonic Acid http://appliedresearch.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/fatty_acids/table4.html
de Lorgeril M, Salen P: New insights into the health effects of dietary saturated and omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. BMC Med 2012;10:50.
Kaaks R: Nutrition, insulin, IGF-1 metabolism and cancer risk: a summary of epidemiological evidence. Novartis Found Symp 2004;262:247-260; discussion 260-268.
Brewer GJ: Iron and copper toxicity in diseases of aging, particularly atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. Exp Biol Med 2007;232:323-335.
Glahn RP, Wortley GM, South PK, et al: Inhibition of iron uptake by phytic acid, tannic acid, and ZnCl2: studies using an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell model. J Agric Food Chem 2002;50:390-395.
Sugimura T: Nutrition and dietary carcinogens. Carcinogenesis 2000;21:387-395.
Murray S, Lake BG, Gray S, et al: Effect of cruciferous vegetable consumption on heterocyclic aromatic amine metabolism in man. Carcinogenesis 2001;22:1413-1420.
Continuous Update Project. Colorectal Cancer Report 2010 Summary: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer.: World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research; 2011.
Chen GC, Lv DB, Pang Z, et al: Red and processed meat consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013;67:91-95.
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.
John EM, Stern MC, Sinha R, et al: Meat Consumption, Cooking Practices, Meat Mutagens, and Risk of Prostate Cancer. Nutr Cancer 2011:1.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/ChemicalContaminants/ucm053549.htm