Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney
Want Cancer With That Burger?
Its summer and you have most likely already visited a backyard bbq. One question that you probably won’t hear from your host or hostess is “Would you like some cancer with that burger?” But, perhaps that is exactly the question that they should be asking.
You probably already knew that red meat consumption may increase your risk of cancer. But, did you know that grilling that red meat may increase your risk of cancer even more?
- You probably didn’t really want to know that when fat from the meat hits the hot coals, carcinogens form that are deposited on the meat.
- You probably also didn’t want to know that when you cook meat to high temperatures the amino acids in the meat combine to form cancer causing substances.
- And you really didn’t want to know that a recent study showed that people who consume well-done red meat were 60% more likely to develop advanced pancreatic cancer.
Does Grilled Meat Increase Prostate Cancer Risk?
This study compared 531 people ages 40-79 who had recently been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer with 527 matched controls. Both groups were asked about their dietary intake of meats, usual meat cooking methods and doneness of the meat.
The results were quite striking:
- Increased consumption of hamburgers was associated with a 79% increased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
- Increased consumption of processed meat was associated with a 57% increased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
- Grilled red meat was associated with a 63% increased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
- Well done red meat was associated with a 52% increased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
However, those percentages are a little bit difficult to compare, because “increased consumption” was defined relative to what the usual consumption or cooking practice was. So put another way, weekly consumption of…
- 3 or more servings of red meat or…
- 1.5 or more servings of processed meat or…
- 1 or more servings of grilled or well done red meat…
…were associated with a 50% increased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
In contrast, consumption of white meat was not associated with increased cancer risk, no matter what the cooking method was used.
Is It Possible To Enjoy Your Cookouts Without Increasing Cancer Risk?
Our local newspaper recently carried some tips by Dr. Denise Snyder from the Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, NC on how you could reduce the risk of giving your guests cancer the next time you are the chef at your backyard bbq.
Here are her suggestions:
- Grill fruits and vegetables instead of meat. That was her idea, not mine. My editorial comment would be that grilling white meat (fish or chicken) is also OK.
- Use the lowest temperature that will cook your food thoroughly and keep the grill rack as high as possible.
- Use a meat thermometer so that you can make sure that as soon as the meat is thoroughly cooked you remove it from the grill. We usually overcook the meat to make sure that it is done.
- Shorten your grill time by microwaving the meat first, using thinner leaner cuts of meat or cutting up the meat and making kabobs.
- Trim as much fat from the meat as possible before you cook it.
- Line your grill rack with aluminum foil poked with holes. This allows the fat to drip down but minimizes the exposure of the meat to the carcinogens formed when the fat hits the coals.
- Marinate your meats before grilling. That has been shown to reduce the formation of cancer causing chemicals.
- And, of course, avoid processed meats like hot dogs and sausage completely because they have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and diabetes (British Journal of Cancer, 106: 603-607, 2012; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.018978, 2011) no matter how they are cooked.
So here’s to a healthier backyard bbq. Bon appétit!
The Bottom Line
1) You already knew that red meat and processed meats may increase your risk of cancer, but how you cook your red meat also matters. Grilling your meat and/or cooking it until it is well done appear to significantly increase your risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.
2) In contrast, consumption of white meat was not associated with increased cancer risk, no matter what the cooking method was used.
3) I’ve included several tips on how you can reduce the cancer risk associated with grilling red meats in the article above so you can enjoy both your cookouts and your health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.