I love summer. I live in Massachusetts and we don’t get the greatest weather patterns. I love being able to walk outside on a warm sunny day in shorts and a t-shirt to sit down and eat a meal on a patio near the ocean. I also love hanging out with family and friends while having a BBQ in the backyard.

 

 

Many of you reading this are attempting to take care of your own health. In your searching, I am sure you have come across an article or two that claims cooking meat, and other foods for that matter, is bad for your health. Before you go and cancel all of your summer cookouts, let’s look at the science behind these claims.

 

Heterocyclic Amines and Cancer Risk

Research has been trying to damn meat as cancerous for quite some time now. One way meat has been condemned for being cancerous is through cooking. There are three things that alter chemical structure and they are heat, light, and oxygen. From this perspective it does seem as if this claim may be plausible.

 

"There have been numerous epidemiological studies performed showing that eating well-done meat leads to increased cancer risk."

One chemical reaction that occurs in meat when you cook it at high temperatures is the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCA). There have been numerous epidemiological studies performed showing that eating well-done meat leads to increased cancer risk.

 

But epidemiological research is a starting point and not the end point. We know from other studies that people who eat increased amounts of meat also tend to smoke more, drink more, and exercise less. This is due to meat being condemned as unhealthy for decades. Thus, many health-conscious people have avoided meat due to this belief. So, is it the meat consumption making people sick or are there other factors at play?

 

With that said, the epidemiological research has showed this trend of increased cancer across the board. This makes the epidemiological research hold more weight.

 

AGEs and Health Decline

Another byproduct of cooking with high temperatures is advanced glycation end products (AGE). AGEs have been linked in the research to a number of negative health outcomes such as cancer, cognitive decline, obesity, and diabetes.

 

 

Fat Oxidation and Heart Disease

Fats are also not all made equal. Some fats are more chemically dense and require more heat to alter their structure. This would be saturated fats. Saturated fats have no open hydrogen bonds, making them more difficult to alter. This is why we recommend cooking with fats such as coconut oil. 

 

"When PUFAs are exposed to high temperatures, they oxidize. Oxidized particles can do quite a bit of damage at the cellular level."

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are less chemically dense and more easily altered by heat. When PUFAs are exposed to high temperatures, they oxidize. Oxidized particles can do quite a bit of damage at the cellular level.

 

In order to combat this oxidation process, our body does a couple of things. First, we use up our antioxidant stores. This can drain us of key nutrients required in other metabolic processes. Also, our immune system responds by sending antibodies. The antibodies attempt rid the body of oxidized particles, but can actually fall victim to them. When this happens, the antibodies “puff” up like clouds and stick to the lining of the arteries. This is how we can build up plaque associated with heart disease.

 

But Don't Cancel the Cookouts Yet

After reading this far, you may be thinking that you should not grill your meat anymore. This is not nearly the case. Research only looks at one aspect and not all of the variables that go into daily living. If you sleep well, have adequate vitamin D, eat lots of nutrient-dense food, exercise, and have solid social relationships, then I do not think grilling your food will give you cancer.

 

"Most studies suggest that cooking above 300 degrees Fahrenheit is where we get increased HCA production. Cooking at temperatures below 300 is a safe option."

However, if you are currently experiencing low-grade chronic inflammation, then it may be better to use easy cooking methods (and by that I mean cooking methods that are easier on your foods). Low-grade inflammation can be found in people who have poor sleep and low vitamin D, along with being stressed out, overweight, and sedentary. Easy cooking methods can also be used if you are already healthy and trying to achieve superstar status in that department.

 

Most studies suggest that cooking above 300 degrees Fahrenheit is where we get increased HCA production. Cooking at temperatures below 300 is a safe option. I personally love the slow cooker. There are thousands of good recipes on the Internet for making delicious slow cooker meals. Other easy cooking methods include boiling, steaming, simmering, and poaching. Changing up how you prepare your meats can also help you not get bored with what you are eating.

 

 

Lifestyle Factors Are Key

The research showing that cooking meat at high temperatures may be dangerous to our health is pretty legit. But most research suggests that the temperature needs to be higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit to produce enough nasty byproducts to be hazardous to our health.

 

If you are just starting out with your healthy lifestyle or have some troubled lifestyle areas, then you should utilize more easy cooking methods. This includes cooking below 300, using a slow cooker, boiling, simmering, and poaching. But if your lifestyle is squared away, I believe the risk of cooking meat at high temperatures is negated.

 

Further Reading:

 

References:

1.Wei Zheng and Sang-Ah Lee. “Well-done Meat Intake, Heterocyclic Amine Exposure, and Cancer Risk.Nutritional Cancer 2009. Retrieved on May 7, 2015

2. I. Strapans, et al. “The role of dietary oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fatty acids in the development of atherosclerosis.” Molecular Nutrition and Food Research (2005). Retrieved on May 7, 2015.

 

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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