Does Grilled Meat Cause Cancer?
Every June, for the past 5 years, I’ve given a presentation to the local hospital system titled “Updates in Cancer Nutrition”. The goal is to update the community on new research related to nutrition and cancer.
It’s amazing to see the room filled with both ‘regular’ and new attendees. I also love to hear the room answer some of the questions I ask to subtly test their knowledge.
“What foods has research shown increases the risk of cancer?” I asked.
“Grilling meat.” Said a lady from the back row.
The attendee was right on!
Grilling, or actually cooking animal protein at high-temperatures, creates several carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds. These are heterocyclic amines or HCAs. HCAs are a class of cancer-causing substances found not only in cooked meat but also in tobacco (1).
What is considered cooking at a high-temperature? Unfortunately, anything above 350 degrees Fahrenheit, according to research. (2)
A specific type of HCA called PhIP (2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine, for all of my 🤓’s out there!), has been found to influence breast cancer growth by:
Starting cancer growth (3)
Increasing estrogen activity (4)
Promoting the invasiveness of breast cancer cells -- or, how it may spread to other tissues and organs (5)
I know -- this deserves a full line of angry emojis! 😡
If you are looking to reduce your exposure to these carcinogens created when grilling, here are 4 tips to help you still enjoy this grilling season!
4 Tips for Healthy Grilling
If you still wish to include grilled animal protein in your diet, studies show that marinating meat, poultry, or fish for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs.
Consider using a mixture of different kinds of vinegar, lemon juice, cooking wine and/or different herb and seasonings.
Adapted from: AICR.org
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 1-2 limes)
2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning (salt-free, if possible)
Mix all marinade ingredients together. Add to a shallow dish and marinate food to be grilled for at least 30 minutes, and up to 6 hours.
2) Reduce the Heat
Grilling at a lower temperature, even on the grill, for a longer period of time has been shown to reduce the formation of carcinogens. When animal protein is blackened, or charred, and/or encompassed by flames, carcinogen risk is increased. Cooking at a lower temperature can help reduce these risks.
3) Grill Plants 🌱
The development of carcinogens has been found when cooking animal protein at high temperatures -- not plants.
Grilled vegetables, bean burgers, and even fruit are delicious ways to enjoy the grill this summer. We love to load the grill with any vegetables we have on hand as a perfect side to some of our favorite bean-based veggie burgers.
Italian Chickpea Burgers -- Fresh basil from the garden is a perfect compliment to this burger!
Black Bean Farro Burgers -- With liquid smoke, these burgers will give you that “smoky” grill flavor you are looking for!
Black Bean Burgers -- One of our most popular recipes, exclusive to Wholesome email subscribers!
4) Consider Meat Alternatives
You’ve likely heard of the Beyond Meat and The Impossible Burger, among others. While these burgers don’t necessarily provide the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting properties whole, plant-based burgers can provide, they can be an alternative choice for safer grilling.
Since the key to carcinogen formation during grilling is related to animal-based proteins, using an alternative meat option can provide much of the flavor and texture you may be looking for, without the carcinogen risk.
Consider consuming these products as an occasional treat or when transitioning towards a plant-based diet.
To reduce your exposure to carcinogens, you don’t have to get rid of the grill. Consider these tips for a safer, healthy summer!
What is your favorite thing to grill? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
R. D. Holland, T. Gehring, J. Taylor, B. G. Lake, N. J. Gooderham, R. J. Turesky. Formation of a mutagenic heterocyclic aromatic amine from creatinine in urine of meat eaters and vegetarians. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 2005 18(3):579 - 590.
Rohrmann S, Jung SUL, Linseisen J, Pfau W. Dietary intake of meat and meat-derived heterocyclic aromatic amines and their correlation with DNA adducts in female breast tissue. Mutagenesis 2009 24(2):127 - 132.
S. N. Lauber, S. Ali, N. J. Gooderham. The cooked food derived carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b] pyridine is a potent oestrogen: A mechanistic basis for its tissue-specific carcinogenicity. Carcinogenesis 2004 25(12):2509 - 2517
Lauber SN, Gooderham NJ. The cooked meat-derived mammary carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine promotes invasive behaviour of breast cancer cells. Toxicology 2011 279(1 - 3):139 - 145.