When I was young BBQ gatherings were a special occasion. It involved a lot of people, food, and certainly a lot of fun. Friends, relatives and neighbours were all invited. Typically we had corn on the cob and a variety of meat and seafood. There was pork satay, chicken wings, whole fish, tiger prawns and more. Plus we had chips, crackers and desserts. I don’t recall any vegetables. It was certainly a feast! The mums would remind the young ones not to eat the burnt part of the meat because it’s not good for us. We didn’t know the reason behind it but we listened anyway and it became good practice throughout the years. It’s a good thing we listened!
The dangers of charred meat
Recently I was reading The Healthy Home book and one section talks about the danger of charring meat. Cooking certain meat at high temperatures and exposing it to direct flames can produce toxic chemicals which are linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly gastrointestinal cancer. “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat – including beef, pork, fish, or poultry – is cooked using high-temperature methods… In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.” – National Cancer Institute*
Apparently meats are not the only problem. When you overcook certain foods by frying, grilling or roasting, such as fries and potato chips, compounds called acrylamides are formed. It’s also produced while making toast from bread. They are found in carbohydrate-rich foods that are heated to a temperature above 120°C. Although studies in rodent models suggest that acrylamide is a potential carcinogen, additional epidemiological cohort studies are needed to help determine any effects of dietary acrylamide intake on human cancer risk.
So what can you do?
There are things we can do in the cooking process to lower the exposure of dietary acrylamide and cancer risk. You can decrease cooking time and aim to cook until golden, rather than brown or black. You can also try to keep the cooking temperature at low to medium. One indication that the temperature is too high is if you see smoke coming off the oil. This is no good because it produces a mass of free radicals. Try boiling potatoes before frying and drying them in a hot air oven after frying. You can even remove charred portions of meat. Even better, consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.