Now, I hate to put a downer on this fabulous sunny weather we are having, but I thought this blog would be perfectly timed given BBQ’s are popular during the good weather. So if well-done burgers or charred sausages are your thing, it may be worth knowing that there is evidence to suggest that a heavy intake of barbecued meat could increase cancer risk.
Why oh why you might ask?? Well, cooking meat at a high temperature causes chemicals called HCA’s (heterocyclic amines) and PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form. These carcinogenic compounds can cause changes in the DNA that can lead to cancer. Research to date shows exposure to high levels of HCA’s and PAH’s can cause cancer in animals, but, whether such exposure causes cancer in humans remains unclear.
However, a University of Minnesota study which tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period found that regularly consuming well-done or charred meat may increase human risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent, so, it’s worth it to be at least aware of the potential risks!
But don’t worry, I’m not remotely suggesting that you go packing your barbecue back into the shed just yet. You can have your barbecue and your health too! By following some simple guidelines below, you can cut the health risks right down and enjoy as many barbecues in this fab Irish weather while it lasts!
6 steps to a healthier barbeque:
Marinade before cooking
If you’re cooking meat or poultry, marinate it in olive oil and lemon juice beforehand. As well as adding flavour and moisture, research shows that these two items reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds by up to 99% while cooking. Add fresh or dried herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, thyme or oregano to the marinade to further reduce the formation of HCA’s.
Keep it lean
Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off any excess fat before barbecuing because when fat and juice drip from meat, flames flare up and create more smoke, which is what leads to carcinogen formation.
Turn down the heat
Use low to medium cooking temperatures, avoid flare ups and flip every few minutes. Cook thoroughly but don’t overcook foods. The charred bits on foods are the largest sources of PAH’s and HCA’s, so, if you have charred sections of meat, cut them off.
Surf & turf
Go beyond bangers and burgers by throwing some fish on the barbie for a healthy change. Beef, pork and poultry tend to form more HCA’s than seafood because of their higher amino acid content and longer grilling times. Fishes that barbecue particularly well are salmon, halibut, tuna and swordfish. Stick them on a skewer with some chopped courgettes and onion as an alternative to the usual burger.
Clean before you cook
Clean your grill prior to every use. Not only is it more appetising to eat food that’s been cooked on a clean grill, but you’ll reduce the amount of char that you’ll be eating.
Balance your barbecue
One of the easiest ways to cancer-proof your barbecue is to add anti-oxidant rich veggies. Skewered kebabs are a great way to do this. You can alternate chunks of meat with onions, peppers, courgette, and mushrooms. Also try serving your meat/fish with a large green salad.