Simple Way to Prevent Cancer Risk

Many love fried, baked, and barbecued foods. But there may be a less tasty side to these culinary delights: high temperature cooking methods may produce large amounts of cancer-producing compounds, aka carcinogens.

A Swedish report found that when starchy foods such as flour and potatoes are baked or fried at high temperatures, they produce the carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) chemical acrylamide 1. Prolonged exposure to acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and may do the same in humans 1.

The generation of carcinogens from frying is not limited to only starchy foods. During the process of frying protein-rich foods, such as meat and fish, various kinds of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced, particularly when cooking temperature is very high (above 400oF )2. Heterocyclic amines have been shown to cause malignant tumors in the colon and breast of mice and rats, and they are possible or probable carcinogens for humans 2.

Temperature is the most important factor in the formation of HCAs3. Frying, broiling, and barbecuing produce the largest amounts of HCAs because the meats are cooked at very high temperatures. The higher the temperature, the higher the number of carcinogenic compounds produced. One study conducted by researchers showed a threefold increase in the content of HCAs when the cooking temperature was increased from 200 degrees to 250 degrees C (392 degrees to 482 degrees F) 3. A typical gas grill easily reaches 500oF. Such extreme temperatures produce high levels of carcinogens.

Furthermore, barbecues have long been known to be dangerous because of the tendency of flames and smoke to blacken and burn the meat and especially the fat. The amount of fat on the meat compounds the carcinogenic potential of the grilled meat. When the fat from the grill drips onto the open fire, the smoke, which is another source of carcinogens known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carries the dangerous compounds back to the food.

How do these carcinogenic compounds released from cooking foods in high temperature promote cancer? The answer is oxidation. Acrylamides, HCAs, and PCAs are all oxidants. Oxidants, or compounds that participate in the process of oxidation, disrupt the stability of cell membranes and DNA 5; accumulated damage to the DNA is a precursor to cancer 6.

Turning down the cooking temperature is a simple way to help prevent cancer. In order to minimize the number of carcinogens released from cooking, reduce cooking temperature to 350oF and below 7. Steaming, poaching, and cooking in a crock pot are some examples of cooking with low heat. When barbecuing, try to use and consume leaner cuts of meats. If consuming foods that are cooked with high temperature methods, remember to consume plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables since they are great sources of antioxidants, or take antioxidant supplements. Antioxidants will counteract the damage done by the dangerous oxidants and help keep your body healthy and cancer-free.