Grilling meat on a flame or charcoal is one of the most enjoyable ways to cook meat, which most of us Iranians welcome! But some researchers have classified grilled meat as “possibly carcinogenic.” What is the connection between kebab and cancer? In this article, we will look at this issue.
Studies over the past two decades have shown that grilled, smoked and grilled meats increase the risk of a variety of cancers, especially pancreatic, colon and prostate cancers. Researchers have done several studies on the relationship between kebabs and cancer, and believe that two chemical compounds Heterocyclic amines (HCA) and Multi-ring aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) increase the risk of cancer.
Why do some researchers believe that kebab is carcinogenic?
When muscle meat, such as beef or fish and poultry, is cooked at high temperatures or over a direct flame, such as frying or grilling, two chemical compounds of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) —some experts call it heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA). And – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University in 2010 found a link between fried, grilled and overcooked meat and cancer. They found evidence of carcinogenicity between HCA and PAH. According to them, these two chemical compounds are mutagenic and increase the risk of cancer by altering the DNA they cause.
The chemical compound HCA is produced when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine or creatinine (substances found in muscle meat) react at high temperatures. On the other hand, when water and fat of the meat, when grilled, is poured on the direct heat of the fire or on a hot surface, it produces more flame and smoke. The smoke contains PAH, which eventually adheres to the surface of the meat.
PAH compounds are also formed when food is prepared in other ways, such as smoking meat; However, the amount of HCA compounds in non-meat foods cooked at high temperatures is not significant.
How are chemical compounds made in cooked meat?
The amount of chemical composition of HCA and PAH varies depending on the type of meat, cooking method and “cooking time” (low, medium or high); But any kind of meat produces the chemical compound HCA when cooked at very high temperatures, especially 148 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit) or left on heat for a long time. For example, fried, grilled or grilled chicken and steak have high concentrations of the chemical HCA. On the other hand, cooking methods that expose meat to smoke form the chemical composition of PAH.
According to some researchers, such as researchers at the University of Minnesota, these two chemical compounds are metabolized by certain enzymes in the body during a process called bioactivation, and damage DNA. The activity of these enzymes varies from person to person, and exposure to these chemicals may increase the risk of cancer.
How do chemical compounds in grilled meat cause cancer?
Animal model studies have shown that exposure to the two chemical compounds HCA and PAH increases the risk of cancer. In several experiments, researchers gave rodents dietary supplements containing the chemical compound HCA. After a while, the rodents’ breasts, colon, liver, skin, lungs, prostate and other organs became infected with cancerous tumors. Rodents that took PAH-containing supplements also developed cancers such as leukemia and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.
But the amount of HCA and PAH consumption in these animals was very high and thousands of times higher than the amount a person receives in a normal diet. Human studies have not yet been able to distinguish between the two chemical compounds HCA and PAH from cooked meats and cancer in humans.
In many epidemiological studies, detailed questionnaires have been used to identify how meat is consumed and cooked by participants in these studies. These studies have shown that consuming large amounts of burnt meat, such as 2 to 3 times a week for several years, causes a type of cell damage in the body that increases the risk of cancer.
The problem in research
One of the problems with conducting these studies is that it is difficult to determine the exact amount of HCA and / or PAH that a person gets from cooking meat. Of course, according to the diet questionnaires, the amount of these two chemical compounds can be estimated, but not all the details of the cooking methods that are necessary to determine the amount of exposure to HCA and PAH can be accessed. In addition, differences in the activity of enzymes that metabolize these two chemical compounds may lead to different results in different people, even among people who consume the same amount of these compounds.
In 2015, an independent team of experts from the World Cancer Research Center ranked red meat consumption in Group 2A (possibly carcinogenic to humans). However, the team found no link between HCAs and PAHs and cancer.
The sugar in these foods and beverages exposes people to obesity, and obesity is a definite factor in increasing the risk of cancer. However, according to researchers, by soaking meat in a variety of spices and peppers and grilling it on thin aluminum foil can reduce their carcinogenicity.
Are there any guidelines for eating foods that contain the chemical compounds HCA and PAH?
No. The World Cancer Research Fund / American Cancer Research Institute published a report in 2007 containing dietary guidelines emphasizing the limited consumption of red and processed meat (such as smoked meats); But it did not provide any warning about the amount of HCA and PAH chemicals in the meat.
Tricks to reduce harmful chemicals when cooking meat
There are no specific instructions for taking HCA and PAH, but if you are worried about these harmful substances, you can use tricks to reduce the amount of these chemical compounds:
- Do not expose meat to direct flame or on a hot metal surface And Avoid long cooking of meat (Especially at high temperatures) can prevent the formation of these two harmful chemical compounds.
- Use the microwave before placing the meat at high temperatures By reducing the cooking time, it can greatly reduce the formation of HCA.
- Instead of placing the meat on a high heat source, Constantly flipping it It can greatly reduce the formation of HCA.
- Discard the burnt parts of the kebab And Do not consume oil or water that drips from grilled meat, Can reduce the risk of harmful compounds HCA and PAH.
Research is currently underway in the United States into linking meat consumption and cooking methods to cancer risk. Ongoing research includes the NIH-AARP Health and Diet Survey, the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study, multinational collaboration, and Harvard University research. Similar studies are being conducted in Europe at the European Institute for Nutrition and Cancer.
By eating meat properly, as mentioned above, you can reduce your risk of developing cancer.