This 4th of July, families who adjusted menus for their barbeques and picnics to try to reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer may want to consider the grilling advice in a press release from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). In June, the AICR issued some recommendations for safe ways to grill American barbeque favorites like steak, hamburgers and even hot dogs.
According to AICR spokesperson Alice Bender, MS RD, who commented in the June AICR press release on safe grilling, “it only makes sense to take some easy cancer-protective precautions.” The AICR recommends these steps for cancer-preventative grilling:
- Marinate the meat in vinegar, lemon juice, wine or other acidic sauces to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds when the meat is seared or grilled
- Grill fruits and vegetables to add color and flavor to the family barbeque and reduce some of the meat portions
- Partially cook meats off the grill by roasting, par-boiling or microwaving to reduce the time cooked on high, direct heat
- Go low and slow with cooking temperatures and cooking times
- Avoid charring, flare-ups, burning the meat or cooking meats to well-done
Grilling, searing and charring any kind of meat, poultry or fish increases the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Consuming these compounds on the surface of the food can theoretically damage DNA in ways that make cancer development more likely, according to Bender.
The AICR Continuous Update Project guidelines recommend that people limit consumption to 18 cooked ounces of red meat per week. 18 ounces is roughly equivalent to six palm-sized portions of beef, lamb or pork. The AICR also recommends that people avoid consuming any type of processed meat prepared with added chemical preservatives such as sodium nitrate. This recommendation includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats. The AICR report showed that ounce for ounce, consuming processed meats increased the risk of developing colorectal cancer twice as much as consuming unprocessed red meat.
Consuming small amounts of grilled proteins and lightly grilled (not charred) food has not been linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. A few grill marks, red meats cooked only to rare or medium-rare temperatures, poultry and fish grilled to safe consumption temperatures generally form fewer cancer causing compounds than red meats cooked to a char, burned or well done. Sausages, bacon and hot dogs made without added sodium nitrate are safer to eat than processed meats which contain multiple added preservatives.
When it comes to the all-American hot dogs, try including some “white” hot dogs, also called bockwurst or coneys. The white hot dogs are prepared from pork, veal and egg whites and usually don’t contain added sodium nitrite, although readers should careful check the label on sausages for added preservatives. However, charring any sausage or hot dog to a crisp negates the positive effects of the safer preservative levels.
HCAs form on the surface of cooked proteins when they’re prepared by high heat cooking methods. Those cooking methods include both charring on a grill and hard-searing in a skillet on the stove. The more well-done or charred a protein, the more HCAs are produced. In the 2007 update to their study, the AICR listed that HCA formation might be related to development of certain cancers. However, the group’s most recent study update found a definite causal link between people who consumed a high level of well-done or charred meats and proteins, and people who developed colon, lung and prostate cancers.
The AICR, along with the World Research Fund International (WRFI) researches dietary effects on cancer. In June, the two groups released an update to the ongoing Continuous Update Project, a study that has for several years taken aim at meat consumption and the all-American barbeque.
Although the news bytes taken from the latest Continuous Update Project press releases have spotlighted the evils of consuming grilled meats, careful reading of the AICR’s annual dietary recommendations goes deeper. The AICR recommendations indict not only grilling, but all high-heat cooking of meats and proteins, including searing in an open skillet.
According to the AICR, several cooking methods don’t appear to increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. These “safer” ways to prepare meats include roasting, baking, slow-cooking, smoking without added preservatives, steaming, poaching, and sous-vide cooking methods. 4th of July revelers who are planning a slow-smoked barbeque featuring Texas-style brisket, southern-style ribs or pulled pork, or a beachside clambake, crab boil or lobster roast are sticking to food preparations with much lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.
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- American Institute for Cancer Research: Cancer Experts offer four tips for healthy grilling, Continuous Update Project Report: May 2011
- World Cancer Research Fund: Continuous Update Project Report: 2011