Question: My husband insists on charring steaks over high heat when he grills. I have told him this can cause cancer, but he says the risk is small. What do you think?
Dr. Hibberd’s answer:
According to the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame.
Researchers found that high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats was associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer, and well-designed studies are underway to know the exact risk.
Although no specific guidelines exist, HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoiding prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures); using a microwave oven to cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking; continuously turning meat over on a high heat source compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often; and removing charred portions of meat and refraining from using gravy made from meat drippings.
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