Medically reviewed by
Courtney Moore, MS, RD, LD
McLeod Outpatient Oncology Registered Dietitian
Grilled, barbequed, smoked, and deep fried! Mmmm. So delicious! Although that is true, foods cooked in these ways may be bad for you.
“Meats prepared using these cooking methods should be limited or avoided to help prevent certain cancers like colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancer,” says McLeod Oncology Dietitian Courtney Moore. “You cannot eliminate your cancer risk completely but cutting out certain foods and focusing on a healthy diet may help reduce your risk significantly. Highly processed foods and those with added sugars such as microwave popcorn, baked goods, breakfast cereals, soda, and ready to eat meals are just another example of foods to limit for someone serious about preventing cancer.”
WHY ARE THESE BAD?
Red meats and processed meat are a problem when cooked at high temperatures. The heat triggers proteins in the meat to form compounds linked to cancer. Moderation with red meat is possible. The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat weekly to reduce your cancer risk. To give you a sense of size, a small hamburger would weigh about 4 ounces uncooked. So-called “red” meat includes beef, veal, pork and lamb.
Processed meat includes lunch meat, jerky, hot dogs, bacon, ham and salami, among others. The “processing” leaves the meat looking appealing, even fresh, but high saturated fat content, salt, and chemical additives used on the meat can put you at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer. Processed meat’s cancer risk is so high that the World Health Organization categorizes it as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same as alcohol, tobacco and asbestos.
The same cooking methods for meat that increase your cancer risk also apply to foods like fish, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, processed cream cheese, processed breakfast cereals and pastas, fast food, and roasted/salted nuts.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
To reduce your risk of cancer, one of the easiest actions you can take is to avoid the consumption of red and processed meats. Then, replace them with healthy foods.
Change your cooking techniques to use slower, indirect heat methods such as poaching, stewing, braising, or steaming to reduce the compounds formed in the food that may cause cancer.
Remove charred portions of meat prior to eating and do not make gravy from meat drippings cooked from grilling, smoking, barbequing, or deep-frying.
If cooking over a high heat source such as an open flame or hot metal surface, continuously turn meat instead of leaving it directly on the heat source without flipping often.
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Sources include: McLeod Health, US News & World Report, International Agency for Research on Cancer, British Medical Journal, American Institute of Cancer Research, American Cancer Society