Is Meat Cooked with High Heat Cancerous?

It’s summer BBQ season! Just make sure you know the healthiest and most Ayurvedic way to prepare your grillables.

In This Article

Ayurvedic Cooking Principles, the National Cancer Institute, and Meat

As you head out for that summer BBQ, a quick reminder that in Ayurveda all foods should be cooked gently on low heat.

And now modern Western science backs up this ancient practice. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has reported on the risks of cooking meat at high temperatures. This is because when meat from the muscle of beef, pork, fish, and poultry are cooked using high temperatures, cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic, meaning they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

See also Meat: The Good, the Bad + the Ayurvedic Perspective

The Science Behind Cooking Meat

The National Cancer Institute suggests that cooking time, the type and temperature of heat used, the type of meat, and the method of cooking will determine the amount of HCAs and PAHs formed. That said, meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300 degrees Fahrenheit (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time (well-done) tend to form more HCAs. For example, well-done, grilled, or barbecued chicken and steak all have high concentrations of HCAs.

Since the 2010 National Cancer Institute study, more recent studies have confirmed the link between a diet of meats cooked at high temperatures and cancer in humans. HCAs are formed when amino acids–the building blocks of proteins, and sugars–and creatine, a substance found in muscle, react at high temperatures. A similar process also takes place in plant-based foods, creating dangerous acrylamides.

PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as the charring and smoking of meats. (PAHs are also found in cigarette smoke and deadly car exhaust fumes.

See also The Benefits of Cooking with Low Heat

6 Ways to Make Cooked Meat More Safe

The National Institutes of Health suggest the following to avoid dangerous levels of HCAs and PAHs:

  1. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface.
  2. Reduce the cooking time to avoid eating well-done meat.
  3. Turning meat over while on a high heat source can substantially reduce HCA formation.
  4. Remove charred portions of meat and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings.

According to Ayurvedic cooking principles, there are a couple simple steps to take:

  1. Cook all foods over a low flame and never eat burned or charred foods.
  2. Consider boiling meats in a stew instead–a traditional method that minimizes the high temperature risks of burning or overheating the food.

But whatever you do, enjoy the season and don’t stress too much!

See also Intro to Ayurvedic Cooking with Divya Alter

4 thoughts on “Is Meat Cooked with High Heat Cancerous?”

  1. What types of plant-based foods produce acrylamides, and what type of cooking should be avoided for plant foods?

    Reply

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