Ready to fire up the grill and enjoy hamburgers and hotdogs grilled to perfection with those perfect little char marks? We all love that, right?! But, did you know that you are serving heterocyclic amines with these BBQ favorites? Yum! Wait, what is that?
BEWARE OF THE CHAR
While those char marks in BBQ meat and fish look picture perfect and give a tasty flavor, the char is actually laden with cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs form when meat and high heat are combined to create a blackened crust. These compounds directly damage DNA and initiate mutations that can lead to the development of cancer, according to The National Cancer Institute. Diets with high exposures to HCAs are correlated with higher rates of pancreatic, colon and digestive tract cancers.
When the proteins are heated to the point that the flesh starts to brown and blacken, HCAs are formed, some of which are known carcinogens. Extreme heat causes a chemical reaction between the amino acids naturally found in proteins and creatine found in muscle meats.
The highest levels of HCAs are found in BBQ poultry, steaks, salmon grilled with the skin, well-done hamburgers and barbecued pork such as spare ribs.
NOW ADD KETCHUP, MUSTARD, AND POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS!
When the fat drips onto the coals and there is a flare, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another carcinogen, are formed according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The smoke carries these pollutive hydrocarbons into the air and coat the food we eat. PAH exposure is correlated to higher rates of stomach cancer.
TOP 5 WAYS TO PREVENT CANCER-CAUSING HCAs and PAHs
- Cook at lower temperatures
- Avoid having flames come in direct contact with food
- Keep your grill clean (scrap off that charred residue from last year!) and coat with oil to prevent sticking
- Trim the fat before cooking and use leaner cuts of meat (better for your diet too!)
- Pre-cook your meat in a skillet or oven (Pre-cooking removes some of the fat that can drip and cause smoke AND reduces exposure to toxins)
Who really enjoys standing in that smoke and heat on an 80+ degree day anyway?!
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