Michele C Madzudzo
During the lockdown, it’s time of uniting around a fire with family and friends and sharing a superb feast, prime time for grilling right! Everyone is talking about the claim that eating braaied meat increases the risk of cancer. Could it be true? It’s every braai-loving Zimbabwean’s worst nightmare — the idea that eating meat could up your cancer risk!
What does science really say?
Research does, in fact, show that meat cooked at high temperatures releases chemicals that increase cancer risk, these are HCA and PHA which are formed during cooking of muscle meats such as beef, pork, chicken, fowl and fish, due to a reaction between amino acids and creatinine at high temperatures. Associated cancers are colon, prostate, breast, pancreatic and stomach.
Lest you feel science threatens everything we enjoy, I have a bit of good news. Eating meat once in a while won’t cause cancer, it’s regular and repeated exposure for decades that adds up to make a difference in risk.
The emphasis rather is not to eat excessive amounts, particularly over a long period of time. Besides, meat can be a valuable source of nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron and vitamin B12, so simply put “moderation is key “
Healthy braai tips
Knowledge is power and now that you know the risks that are involved, here is some good news with some surprisingly exciting and practical tips on how to make your braai healthier.
1: Avoid processed meats
Skip the hotdogs, sausages and bacon, they taste good, but cancer-forming substances form when these meats are preserved.
They contain monosodium glutamate, preservatives, artificial flavourants and colorants that may increase cancer risk. Choose meat from local butcheries such as chicken, fish, beef, pork that is uncured.
2: Keep the flames at bay
If you can turn your grill to a low heat setting which makes it harder for meat to burn or char or braai with water to regulate heat so that you do not burn the meat.
3: Cut back on grill time
Cooking for a long time leads to the formation of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). It’s important to reduce braaing time by employing the following simple methods:
- Choose meat that cooks fast, especially fish which cooks significantly faster.
- Cook meat as little as possible, if it’s beef, rare to medium is best.
- It’s a good idea to choose smaller cuts of meat such as kebabs or cut meat into strips.
4: Grill vegetables
You can still enjoy that smoky flavour you love and reduce cancer risk by braaing fruits and vegetables. They do not cause harmful chemicals even when cooked at high temperatures. Examples include—
- Water melon
- Another alternative is to pair your meat with a rich anti-oxidant salad, combat the harmful chemicals produced in meat with powerful antioxidants by enjoying your meat with fresh salad or even steamed vegetables, remember the more variety and colour, the more anti-oxidants.
5: Use thin marinade
Marinate meat in beer — doing this for about four to six hours has been found to significantly lower the cancer-causing agents that develop.
Another alternative is to marinate meat in a thin mixture of vinegar, oil, and spices.
Other examples of ingredients that have been shown to be effective are olive oil, lemon juice, apple cider, mustard, garlic, black pepper, oregano and rosemary.
Always avoid thick sugary marinades that may cause charring of meat which makes it unhealthy to eat.
6: Trim off fat
Remove any excess fat especially on meat such as pork, it reduces the amount of PAH produced, smoke from the braai caused by fat and juices hitting the hot coal contains additional harmful chemicals that can cause cancer.
Therefore, remove any excess fat.You can also use a tong instead of a fork which can pierce meat and cause meat juices to drip into the fire.
7: Create a barrier
Don’t allow juices to spill and produce harmful smoke and cut back on flame flare ups, line up your grill with aluminium foil or cook on cedar planks. Take good care of your gut, eat healthy and stay fit.
- Michele C Madzudzo is a radiation therapist and Talk Cancer Zim founder and president.