Lifestyle with Sakwaba: Will your grilled meat, chicken and fish cause cancer?

Lifestyle with Sakwaba: Will your grilled meat, chicken and fish cause cancer?
Source: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com | Naa Sakwaba Akwa | Email: faustine.akwamyjoyonline.com
Date: 26-06-2019 Time: 12:06:07:am
This does not mean you should stop eating grilled foods

The Friday night outings, birthday celebrations, wedding receptions and parties are incomplete without some charcoal-grilled tilapia with banku and hot pepper.

No. The meal is so loved that people go to functions expecting it to be served and there is a lot of dissatisfaction when the menu does not have banku with pepper and grilled tilapia on it.

Grilled tilapia, however, is not the only known delicacy. All forms of meat, especially red meat, including pork, beef, chicken or turkey and all other kinds of fish all add up to the mouthwatering dishes prepared in various homes and eateries across the country.

Grilled meat

Yes, kebab is included. Sorry.

But recent studies have unravelled a health issue with these grilled meals that will cause many to panic or think twice about having them.

The studies by the National Cancer Institute in the US suggest that meat, including, pork, beef, poultry or fish form cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) when charred or cooked over high heat, as on a grill.

In laboratory experiments, experts have found that these chemicals cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

Grilled chicken

How do the HCAs and PAHs form?

The HCAs are formed when amino acids – the building blocks of proteins, sugars and substances that form muscles react at high temperatures. PAHs, on the other hand, are formed when fat and juices from fish or meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke.

The smoke contains PAHs that then stick to to the surface of the fish or meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats. PAHs can be found in other smoked foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

Some studies have even shown that individuals who eat a lot of grilled meat are at higher risk of colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer, but others have not shown these associations.

Grilled chicken

What might be a worse culprit at your barbecue than an open flame: processed meat like hot dogs and sausages, which contain cancer-causing additives and chemicals. There is convincing evidence that processed meat contains cancer-causing chemicals. It is estimated that 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily is associated with the increase in colorectal cancer by 18%.


Don’t panic yet, because even by these numbers, you would have to be eating grilled fish or meat every day to increase your risk exponentially. However, if you are concerned about coming into contact with potentially harmful foods or cooking methods, worry not because there are ways you can completely avoid or lessen your risk.

What are the best options?

1. Clean your grill

Your grill should be clean at all times, this is because char can build up on the grates, and it is exactly that which you seek to minimise. There are a couple of different ways you can do that. You can scrub it with baking soda, or you can use a wad of tin foil to scrub it off.

Grilled meat

2. Cook lean meats

It is best to cook lean meat as it will prevent fat from dripping and creating smoke, which means less potential for the presence of PAHs. When grilling chicken, consider skinning it in order to reduce the amount of fat on it.

3. Marinate your meat or fish

There is ample evidence that the way you prepare your fish or meat makes a whole lot of difference. Marinating meat or fish even just for 30 minutes will limit carcinogen formation. A number of spices, in addition to adding seem to offer particular protection, including red pepper, thyme, sage, garlic and especially rosemaryHealth.com reported.

Grilled chicken

4. Cut off any charred parts

Removing charred portions of meat before eating them can reduce HCA and PAH exposure.

In a whole, however, note that not enough research has been done to indicate that you should stop eating grilled meats or fish, so you can still have your kebab, grilled tilapia, grill steaks and burgers. But if you want to be on the safe side, follow the steps we’ve just listed.