When meat is cooked at high temperatures until well–done, a group of chemicals — heterocyclic amines (HCAs) — forms. The longer and hotter the cooking, the more HCAs form, especially in the blackened parts of the meat. The National Cancer Institute has identified 17 HCAs that may increase the risk of cancer. Another group of chemicals — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — form in smoke produced when fat burns or drips on hot grill coals. PAHs have been linked to breast cancer.
Research has shown that women who ate a lot of grilled, barbecued, and smoked meats and very few fruits and vegetables had a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who didn’t eat a lot of grilled meats.
Steps you can take
- Choose lean cuts of meat and trim the fat to avoid PAHs.
- Grill at lower temperatures.
- Consider precooking (roasting or baking) meat before grilling to cook off fat.
- Don’t use recipes for “blackened” foods.
- Trim off any charred or burned parts of food.
- Avoid overcooking (and undercooking) by using a meat thermometer to cook meat to the correct temperature indicated on the thermometer.
- Marinade meats in herb mixtures to reduce HCAs. Research shows the herbs in marinades reduce HCAs.