Grilled meats – We’ve all been served up, and cooked, pieces of grilled meat at barbecues. But have you ever thought about what happens to meat when it’s burned over an open flame? To begin with, chemical reactions cause proteins in the meat to become ‘denatured’, and lose their characteristic conformation. This is bad news because denatured proteins can cause all sorts of ailments, from indigestion to cancer. Then there are the carcinogens created when you burn meat over a flame. These often include heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can cause mutations in DNA that result in cancer cells.
Another problem with grilled meat is a fat known as AGEs. When animal fats drip onto the heat source, they are transformed into harmful compounds called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These have been linked to numerous diseases, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The impact of these toxins increases when you use animal products high in fat, such as pork and duck.
Another popular way to cook meat is with a blowtorch (a culinary tool that shoots out flames from a nozzle, which cooks your steak at incredibly high temperatures). This method of cooking could cause even more damage than grilling because you are burning the surface of the meat while also exposing it to high temperatures.
Studies suggest that meat cooked at a high temperature creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to promoting cancer and speeding up the ageing process. Researchers have discovered that HCAs can cause mutations in DNA, triggering cells to become cancerous. So when you next tuck into your BBQ steak, be aware that you could potentially be putting yourself at risk of developing cancer and increased aging.
Smoked meats – Meats that have been smoked, cured or salted often contain chemicals known as nitrates and nitrites. These additives can turn into carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines when they come into contact with stomach acid. Nitrosamines are linked to causing cancer in the digestive tract, and colon cancer in particular.
Smoking meat also adds chemicals to the meat that are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. When you look at all the evidence, it’s hard to see how smoking meat could be good for our health!