Grilled foods - most of us enjoy a good grilled meal, whether it be a juicy steak, a low-fat chicken breast, or a veggie shish kabob. But reports linking charred food to carcinogens and cancer have made some people concerned about grilling and grilled foods. In truth, these reports are often exaggerated and don't always explain the everyday implications.
The reports mainly focus on scientific studies involving benz pyrenes. Benz pyrenes are carcinogenic particles found in charred foods. Based on studies with laboratory rats, scientists found that ingesting large amounts of benz pyrenes may cause cancer. But media reports describing the studies and the concerns about grilled foods don't always present the information correctly or give complete information.
There are two key aspects of these studies about grilled food that don't always get explained or emphasized. The first is that the rats were fed heavily charred food. That means that almost all parts of the food were burned. Secondly, the rats' entire diet consisted of charred food.
In actuality, the average person would need to eat heavily charred foods at each meal in order to replicate the studies. On average, people eat grilled foods once or twice a week at most. And unless you're a terrible cook or easily distracted, chances are your food doesn't end up burned to a crisp. If food is heavily charred, people typically throw it away and start over, or at least cut that part off.
Although there is some evidence that large amounts of charred food may cause cancer, the evidence is not conclusive at this time, and there are many more questions to be answered. But once thing is apparent -- under normal grilling conditions, and with a healthy, well-balanced diet, people eating grilled foods just don't consume the amount of charred food and carcinogens as achieved in the studies.
In fact, there are many other things that are more likely to lead to cancer than eating grilled foods. Those cigarettes you or your guests smoke out on the deck are much more harmful. And a day in the sun without sunscreen puts you at risk as well. When put in perspective, the concerns about grilled foods become minor, or even non-existent.
So fire up that grill and enjoy a safe, healthy meal of your favorite grilled foods. And if you still have hesitations, you can stand ready at the grill with a spray bottle of water to put out flare-ups that cause charring, or just cut off any burned portions that do occur. Approached with common sense and healthy menu choices, grilled foods provide an excellent way to eat right and enjoy the outdoors.