Sadly, one in four deaths in the USA are from cancer.
The saying, "you are what you eat" rings true. It is generally accepted that diet is one of the major causes of human cancer. How you prepare your food plays a vital role.
Many love fried, baked, and barbecued foods. But there may be a less tasty side to these culinary delights: high temperature cooking methods may produce large amounts of cancer-producing compounds, aka carcinogens.
Read on to learn what compounds are created when food is cooked at high temperatures, and learn of the top ten carcinogenic foods.
A Swedish report found that when starchy foods such as flour and potatoes are baked or fried at high temperatures, they produce the carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) chemical acrylamide. Acrylamide is not only a carcinogenic but a nerve-damaging, DNA damaging, neurological and reproductive damaging compound. Acrylamide forms as a result of unknown chemical reactions during high-temperature baking or frying. The fact that raw or even boiled potatoes test negative for the chemical proves this. Prolonged exposure to acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and may do the same in humans.
"I estimate that acrylamide causes several thousand cancers per year in Americans," said Clark University research Professor Dale Hattis. Hattis, an expert in risk analysis, based his estimate on standard EPA projections of risks from animal studies and limited sampling of acrylamide levels in Swedish and American foods.
The generation of carcinogens from frying is not limited to only starchy foods. During the process of frying protein-rich foods, such as meat and fish, various kinds of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced, particularly when cooking temperature is very high (above 400 F). Heterocyclic amines have been shown to cause malignant tumors in the colon and breast of mice and rats, and they are possible or probable carcinogens for humans.
Temperature is the most important factor in the formation of HCAs. Frying, broiling, and barbecuing produce the largest amounts of HCAs because the meats are cooked at very high temperatures. The higher the temperature, the higher the number of carcinogenic compounds produced. One study conducted by researchers showed a threefold increase in the content of HCAs when the cooking temperature was increased from 200 degrees to 250 degrees C (392 degrees to 482 degrees F). A typical gas grill easily reaches 500 degrees. Such extreme temperatures produce high levels of carcinogens.
Furthermore, barbecues have long been known to be dangerous because of the tendency of flames and smoke to blacken and burn the meat and especially the fat. The amount of fat on the meat compounds the carcinogenic potential of the grilled meat. When the fat from the grill drips onto the open fire, the smoke, which is another source of carcinogens known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carries the dangerous compounds back to the food.
Researchers at Mt Sinai Medical also found that foods cooked at high temperature contain greater levels of compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that cause more tissue damage and inflammation than foods cooked at lower temperatures. AGEs irritate cells in the body, damaging tissues and increasing your risk of complications from diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Those chemicals can be avoided by cooking meals at lower temperatures.
How do these carcinogenic compounds released from cooking foods in high temperature promote cancer? The answer is oxidation. Acrylamides, HCAs, and PCAs are all oxidants. Oxidants, or compounds that participate in the process of oxidation, disrupt the stability of cell membranes and DNA; accumulated damage to the DNA is a precursor to cancer.
Turning down the cooking temperature is a simple way to help prevent cancer. In order to minimize the number of carcinogens released from cooking, reduce cooking temperature to 350 F and below. Avoid browned foods.
Steaming, poaching, and cooking in a crock pot are some examples of cooking with low heat. Eat raw fruits and vegetables which contain powerful antioxidants that can fight oxidation caused by the toxins created when cooking foods.
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