Suya, Asun And Cancer. Is There A Connection?

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Published: April 28, 2015

Healthy Eating

A few years ago, a study had the meat loving world up in arms. Besides the heart disease risk often associated with diets high in animal products, the research indicated a strong correlation between grilled protein foods and cancer. To most Nigerians, this would imply the need to abandon favourites like suya, asun and other grilled meats. However, before you banish beloveds from your family menu there is some vital information you must know.

What the science tells us

Whenever meat is cooked at high heat temperatures, amino acids, creatine and sugars react to release compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCA’s). As the fat drips into the fire and smoke rises, compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) are formed. These PAH’s are what form the charred look on grilled meats. In animal studies rodents fed diets high in HCA’s developed tumours of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lungs, prostate and other organs. Those that were fed diets high in PAH’s developed leukaemia and tumours of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs. Studies to fully analyse the effect of PAH’s and HCA’s in humans are underway but epidemiological studies based on dietary questionnaires demonstrate a correlation between diets high in well done grilled meats with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Reduce Your Risk

Fortunately, you do not have to entirely give up your grilled meat. Incorporate these methods that have been shown to reduce risk of exposure to HCA’s and PAH’s.

1. Marinate: Marinades not only add flavour. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, marinating meat can reduce the formation of HCA’s by as much as 96%. Some of the most effective marinades are the ones containing olive oil, citrus juices, garlic, red wine and beer.

2. Use a barrier: A physical barrier such as foil or a sturdy cast iron grid reduces direct contact with fire and minimizes the risk of chemicals getting onto the food.

3. Trim the fat: Although a favourite of many, grilled fat on meat can drip into the fire and introduce PAH’s. Trim all visible fat on meat before cooking.

4. Avoid eating the charred parts of the meat and do not use the meat drippings to make a gravy

5. Reduce overall grilling time by precooking (lightly boiling, baking, or microwaving) meats before placing on hot grill. Also, don’t forget to turn the meat frequently.

Finally, it all boils down to balance. Enjoy grilled meats in moderation and balance your diet by including a wide range of disease fighting whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Here’s to your health!

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About Cordialis Msora-Kasago

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

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