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Why are charred foods linked to cancer?

5:47 PM, Aug 17, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Millions of us will fire up the grill and cook outdoors this Labor Day weekend, but grilling some foods has been linked to cancer.

On this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment, a viewer wants to know what is in charred foods that can make us sick.

"Who doesn't love to barbeque?" said Dr. Kate Wolin, an epidemiologist at Siteman Cancer Center.

Turn on a cooking show, and grilling experts will tell you it's the process of charring meat that holds in the juices.

"But it's exactly that char that is potentially generating those carcinogenic compounds," said Dr. Wolin.

That's right. Like almost anything else, too much charred food just isn't good for you.

Blame it on the actual burning of the meat, and the smoke that drifts up on it when the meat's juices drip down.

"It's heterocyclic amines is the name of the compound," said Dr. Wolin. "Then in the smoke it's a hydrocarbon, a polyaromatic hydrocarbon and those are the compounds we think are carcinogenic in the charred and grilled meat."

It doesn't matter if you're using charcoal or gas. Eating high amounts of those chemicals can lead to DNA damage in the body.

"People who eat a lot of red meat, processed meat and charred meat have a higher risk of several cancers including colon, pancreatic, prostate and gastric," said Dr. Wolin.

The good news: grilled fruits and vegetables don't carry the same risk.

"Fish and poultry will still generate those components when grilled but to a much, much lesser extent," said Dr. Wolin.

So cut off the black parts of the red meat, or even consider partially cooking meat in the oven ahead of time to limit the burn.

"We don't want people to stop grilling altogether but we want people to exercise caution," said Dr. Wolin.

Our 8 Ways reports are in partnership with the Siteman Cancer Center.

Send us your questions about cancer prevention.

Go to the home page of ksdk.com, click on the features tab and go to Siteman 8 ways in the drop down menu.

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