Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Unexpected Dangers of the Barbecue

Well folks, it’s summer in the Maritimes at last, and we all know what that means: Mosquitoes. Oh, and barbecuing, that most festive of occasions when we move our cooking and dining into the great outdoors and try to squeeze every last drop of summer sun out of our oh-so-brief summer. There’s nothing more relaxing than lounging around the grill on a sultry summer night, nursing a cold drink and gossiping with friends. Perfectly delicious, and perfectly harmless, right?

WRONG. Unfortunately, evidence shows that barbecuing meat on the grill causes a dangerous, cancer-causing substance called PHiP to form in the meat. PHiP, also known as 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine in scientific circles, is a dangerous substance that is formed when meats are cooked at very high temperatures, such as when you barbecue. A study published in the American Association for Cancer Research in 2007 found that the more grilled red meat that a man consumed, the more PHiP was found in prostate tumour cells. Grilled hamburger had the greatest link with prostate cancer of all the different kinds of meat, and that’s bad news. (Studies at the UC Davis Cancer Centre in California showed similar risks, although they found that chicken had the greatest potential to form PHiP during cooking.)
In 2001, researchers from the University of Guelph found that it can increase the incidence of breast cancer as well as increase the cancer risk of nursing infants whose mothers eat a lot of grilled meat.

PHiP is caused by cooking muscle fibres at very high heat. The higher the cooking temperature, the more PhiP that forms in the meat. This applies not only to food cooked on the BBQ, but also to so-called “healthy” grilled chicken served in restaurants. A study performed by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2008 tested one hundred samples of grilled chicken from seven different chain restaurants, (including Burger King and McDonald’s) and PHiP was found in every single one.

So what’s a Maritimer to do? Well, there are few things you can do to minimize the risk. Marinating the meat before cooking, turning frequently, and choosing lean cuts of meat does help. However, other cooking methods such as baking and roasting cause far fewer PHiP’s to form. Better yet, give some non-meat foods the old college try this summer. Veggie burgers, Portobello mushrooms, and vegetable shish kebabs are all delicious on the grill without delivering a dose of carcinogen along with the entrée.

American Chemical Society (2001, November 29). Canadian Researchers Find Cancer Suspect From Grilled Meat In Human Milk

“Detection of PhIP in Grilled Chicken Entrées at Popular Chain Restaurants Throughout California”;

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