At times it seems like the list of things that’ll give you cancer is infinite. Things once considered perfectly safe are later shown to be the cause of countless deaths. Now it appears we might have to add grilling meat to that list:
A growing body of research suggests that cooking meats over a flame is linked to cancer. Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Exposure to these so-called PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach, and several other types of cancer in lab animals. Epidemiological studies link occupational exposure to PAHs to cancer in humans. When PAHs from a flame mingle with nitrogen, say from a slab of meat, they can form nitrated PAHs, or NPAHs. NPAHs are even more carcinogenic than PAHs in laboratory experiments. The reasonable conclusion is that grilling meat may be hazardous to your health.
This idea isn’t new, but is the result of decades of research stretching back to the 1960s. Grilling isn’t the only culprit either. Frying can be pretty bad as well:
Frying bacon, for example,produces significant levels of PAHs, probably due to volatilization of carbon in the bacon itself. An Iranian study published last year found that people who develop certain kinds of gastrointestinal cancers are more likely to have a diet high in fried rather than boiled foods. (The researchers linked level of browning to cancer incidence, thus reducing the likelihood that oil consumption was the culprit.) The FDA and WHO also remain concerned about the presence in food of acrylamides, a known carcinogen that forms from sugar and amino acids when cooked at high temperatures. Long-term studies are currently underway. The worrying implication is that cooking foods at high heat, even without active combustion, may be dangerous.
The thing is, cooking food is something humans have done for tens of thousands of years and modern humans may never have become possible without it. There are a lot of things that cause cancer that I can live without: smoking, asbestos, drinking too much booze, etc., but cooking my food is not one of them.
The link between grilling/frying meat and cancer isn’t quite as solid as the link between smoking and cancer, but there was a time you could’ve said the same about smoking and as time went on and more studies were done that link became more and more evident. It’s not a stretch to assume the same may happen here.
So should we toss out our grills and deep fryers? If you’re one of the sorts of folks who feel that any chance of cancer is too much of a chance to take then, yes, you should. Along with anything else that appears to be linked to causing cancer (and good luck with that effort). Personally, I’m going to go with the strategy of being aware of the risk and sticking to moderation. Surprisingly enough, my diet is already pretty low on grilled/fried foods. I may still get cancer at some point because we have a family history of it, but it could come from any of a hundred different sources the least of which is how my food is prepared. The way things are going currently, I’m more likely to succumb to diabetes before cancer gets a chance to do any damage. Then there’s the fact that no matter what I do, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and make it all a moot point.
I suppose I could go vegan, but I’m pretty sure that’d make me miserable because, dammit,
hunks of dead cow steaks and hamburgers are just too fucking tasty to not enjoy from time to time. Part of the problem I’m having with losing weight is because exercise makes me miserable and thus I’m finding it very hard to motivate myself to do it regularly. Giving up meat would be even worse and I’m not about to try it. If I end up shaving a couple of years off the end of my life for my love of a good bit of beef then that’s a price I’ll have to pay.
Which brings me to the title of this post which was a thought I had while reading about this growing consensus. Are we worrying too much about cancer? With all the myriad ways one can shuffle off their mortal coil it seems like we overly hyperventilate every time a new study comes around about a cancer risk. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the issue (on the contrary, being aware of risks helps you to manage them), but even if you could somehow eliminate all exposure to everything that could possibly give you cancer there’s still a chance based solely on your genetics that you will get cancer. Our ability to cure cancer has never been better and a lot of the different types you can get are no longer guaranteed death sentences. The key, I think, is awareness, moderation of risks, and regular health checkups to catch it as early as possible if it does rear its ugly head. We’re all going to die of something eventually and for a lot of us it’s not going to be cancer that does it.
Not entirely sure this makes as much sense as I thought it would, but it’s what I was thinking.