Safer, Healthier Grilling
Decades ago, news came out that the nitrites and nitrates added to processed meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts, sausages and bacon generate harmful nitrosamines when cooked which correlated with increased incidence of stomach and colorectal cancers.
Recent studies continue to confirm these findings1,2. To the rescue came vitamin C. Research found that vitamin C in various ascorbate forms helped prevent the formation of nitrosamines in the stomach, rendering nitrates and nitrites less harmful3. So, for a couple of decades, along with the ketchup and mustard, I put out a bottle of chewable vitamin C during family barbeques. Further research showed that vitamin E conferred additional protection4,5. And recent research confirms the protective effect of vitamin C intake, in reducing cancer risk from nitrates2.
Everyone can reduce health risk by not consuming foods that contain these chemicals in the first place! You can help your patients by recommending they purchase “fresh” processed meats (hot dogs and sausages) that contain no added nitrates/nitrites and likewise purchasing all natural condiments, pickles and salad dressings that contain no preservatives. Another alternative is to use vegetable based “meats” such as veggie burgers, veggie dogs, tofu dogs, large portabello mushrooms and veggie sausages, but check the labels to ensure they are nitrate and nitrite free.
The other problem is that hazardous chemicals can be generated during any grilling process even with fresh meats and poultry. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when any muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked at high-temperatures, such as grilling directly over an open flame6,7. HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. 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. HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic and may increase the risk of cancer. If your patients are concerned, one can help reduce the amount of these chemicals on the meats by continuously turning or flipping the meat often, which substantially reduces HCA formation compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without frequent fliping8. Minimizing the amount of time the food is on the grill, and removing charred portions of the meat (like the fat) can also help substantially.
Living well includes enjoying summer activities with friends and family. There may be times in life to just shut off the brain and enjoy the fun, so hey, you can bring your own food, or just bring along plenty of vitamin C and E for everyone and share the love!
- Parr CL1, Hjartåker A, Lund E, Veierød MB. Meat intake, cooking methods and risk of proximal colon, distal colon and rectal cancer: the Norwegian Women and Cancer (NOWAC) cohort study.Int J Cancer. 2013 Sep 1;133(5):1153-63. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28101. Epub 2013 Mar 29.
- Dellavalle CT et al: Dietary nitrate and nitrite intake and risk of colorectal cancer in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study.Int J Cancer. 2014 Jun 15;134(12):2917-26. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28612. Epub 2013 Nov 29.
- Tannenbaum SR. Preventive action of Vitamin C on nitrosamine formation. Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. 1989;30:109-13.
4.Mergens WJ, KammJJ, Newmark HL, Fiddler W, Pensabene J. Alpha-tocopherol: uses in preventing nitrosamine formation. IARC Sci Publ. 1978;(19):199-212.
- Mergens WJ, Chau J, Newmark HL.The influence of ascorbic acid and DL-alpha-tocopherol on the formation of nitrosamines in an in vitro gastrointestinal model system. IARC Sci Publ. 1980;(31):259-69.
6.Cross AJ, Ferrucci LM, Risch A, et al. A large prospective study of meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk: An investigation of potential mechanisms underlying this association. Cancer Research 2010; 70(6):2406–2414. [PubMed Abstract]
7.Cross AJ, Sinha R. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 2004; 44(1):44–55. [PubMed Abstract]
8.Knize MG, Felton JS. Formation and human risk of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines formed from natural precursors in meat. Nutrition Reviews 2005; 63(5):158–165. [PubMed Abstract]
by Lisa Murray, RDN, LD