Cooking & Consuming Meat

Why don’t we eat raw meat? Why Cook it?

The reason we cook food is to reduce our risk of food poisoning from undercooked meat. According to (2016), there are 4 categories of food safety we need to be mindful of, which include bacteria and viruses; parasites; mold, toxins, and contaminants; as well as allergens. Cooking, baking, heating, steaming, pasteurizing are all meant to limit these different categories within the food supply. There are many other reasons we cook food, like increasing the taste and flavor of the food, reducing food spoilage, and softening hard foods for easier digestion (para. 1-4). While these are all great reasons to cook our food, we need to be mindful of cooking meat that may create potential harmful substances. The World Health Organization (2015) briefly addressed the consumption of raw meat in place of cooked meat and stated “the separate question of risk of infection from consumption of raw meat needs to be kept in mind” (para. 6). Cooking meat is just one way we can decrease our risk of becoming ill, however this same accepted practice of cooking meats simultaneously increases our chances of ingesting both heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These substances are Heterocyclic Amines (HACs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are mutagenic substances and carcinogenic compounds formed when cooking muscle meats (Cross and Sinha, 2004, p. 49).

How much cooking time is needed to develop the mutagenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in meat?

There are many variables that are associated with cooking meat, such as the type of meat, method of cooking, and how well-done the meat is. The NCI (2015) states that “…meats cooked at higher temperatures, especially above 300 degrees Fahrenheit (as in grill or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs” (para. 4).  According to Zaidi, Kumar, and Rawat (2012), cooking chicken (compared to beef, fish, and mutton cooked at the same time and temperature duration) for as little as 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit significantly increased the development of heterocyclic amines of both MelQx and PhIP, but it should be noted that the levels of these substances also rose in the other meat products the longer they were cooked (p. 2901).

Dr. Neal Barnard on the Dangers of Grilled Meats           

Heterocyclic amines in cooked meat products vary upon the product, time, and duration of the cooking. According to research by Puangsombat, Gadlix, Houser, Hunt, and Smith, (2012), the type and content of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are based upon the type of meat and temperature at which it is cooked, as well as the length of time it is cooked. “The total HCA contents in cooked meat were 3.5 times lower if cooked to medium-rare rather than well-done degree of doneness” (p. 745). Puangsombat et al., (2012) research concluded that bacon, catfish, salmon and tilapia all contain high amounts of heterocyclic amines, while chicken with skin removed and baked beef, after cooking, contained the least (pp. 744-745).

Should pregnant women consume grilled meat if it has the potential to contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)?

A study conducted by Jedrychowski, et al. (2011), concluded that “the study results provided epidemiological evidence that prenatal PAH exposure from diet including grilled meat might be hazardous for fetal development” (p. 373). The research conducted by Jedrychowski et al. (2011) stated that:

PAH compounds are distributed to almost all internal organs and are transferred through the placenta to the fetus where they are metabolized to form a number of metabolites that may bind to DNA to form a moiety called PAH-DNA adducts. The formation of PAH-DNA adducts can alter DNA replication and may be associated with an increased risk of several forms of cancer (p. 374).

The researchers also point out that newborns and younger children are at greater risk for future cognitive development due to their vulnerability to these toxic PAHs (Jedrychowski et al., 2011, p. 374). These researchers also found that mothers exposed to the fumes of grilled meat, regardless of if the mother ate it, had significantly decreased birth weight:

The results of our study suggest that both PAH prenatal exposure (airborne and dietary) have an additive effect on birth weight deficit in newborns. While the higher prenatal airborne PAH exposure (above median value) adjusted for a wide set of cofounders amounted to a birth weight deficit of 106g, the effect of ingested barbecued meat consumed in the last pregnancy trimester resulted in birth weight deficit of 165g (Jedrychowski et al., 2011, p. 377).

PhIP, the potent mutagen and potential cancer causing agent can also be found in breast milk of lactating mothers who eat meat and smoke cigarettes. DeBruin, Martos, and Josephy (2001) found PhIP in human breast milk of lactating mothers. They stated, “detection of PhIP in milk indicates that ductal mammary epithelial cells are directly exposed to this carcinogen, suggesting that heterocyclic amines are possible human mammary carcinogens” (p. 1526-1527). According to DeBruin et al. (2001), “no PhIP was detected in the milk of the vegetarian donor studied,” meaning that not consuming cooked animal flesh and not smoking resulted in no detectable level of the potent heterocyclic amine PhIP in breast milk (p. 1525). The researchers did not speculate on the safety of this breast milk for the newborns.

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