When it's too hot to turn on the kitchen stove, it can only mean one thing: It's grilling season. But before heading outdoors to prepare every meal, we may want to consider some hamburger health hazards.
Cooking meat at high temperatures, like grilling, roasting and frying, can cause chemical reactions that release some nasty toxins in the air (and our bodies). But before opting for a raw-food diet out of pure fear, there are some ways to keep on grilling while staying out of harm's way.
You're Grilling Me: The Need-to-Know
Throwing a sausage on the grill can cause some serious chemical reactions. The biggest worry is that many of the chemicals created have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
In fact, one large study on over 3,000 women found those who consumed a large amount of grilled meat over the course of a year had a 47 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. In order to learn more about what's actually causing these health risks, we examined the main chemical reactions that occur when meat meets grill, and what the potentially harmful products of those reactions can do.
More: Your Grill Guide for Healthy Summer Eating
- AGEs: Fat plus protein plus heat may equal trouble. Cooking at high heat can produce a chemical reaction between the fat and protein in meat, creating toxins called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These toxins are linked to the imbalance of antioxidants in the body (aka oxidant stress), along with inflammation, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- PAHs: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are a group of over 100 different chemicals found in the smoke emitted from cooking meat on a charcoal grill. PAHs are classified as carcinogens and have been linked to an increased risk of lung and bladder cancer.
- HCAs: Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogenic chemicals produced when muscle meats (i.e. beef, pork, chicken, fish) are fired up on the grill. They're formed when amino acids (found in protein) and creatine (found in muscle) react at temps above 300 degrees F. Studies have found a connection between HCAs and prostate, pancreatic and colorectal cancer in adults.
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