As the end of summer approaches, you love to grill your food on the open flame. You savor that char-grilled flavor on your meat or fish. Perhaps you fashion yourself as a modern-day caveman, inspired by the Paleo Diet and getting back to Nature.
At the same time, you’ve probably heard that eating grilled meat is a bad idea, because compounds in the meat char can cause cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, grilling meat to the point of charring causes the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Maillard reaction products such as acrylamide (AA) or advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). HCAs and AGEs are formed when the amino acids, sugars and creatine in meat react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when meat fats burn. Maillard reaction products are those tasty brown “caramelized” substances produced by the reaction of sugars and amino acids when meats and other foods are cooked by grilling, baking, frying or toasting.
The National Cancer Institute reports that HCAs, PAHs and acrylamide have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Added to this are a number of epidemiological studies purporting to show an association between consumption of cooked meats and cancer.
So you reluctantly curtail your inner caveman and carefully scrape the blackened parts off your meats, or grill them at a lower temperature. Or perhaps you avoid grilling altogether, retreating indoors and lightly sautéing or boiling your meat dishes.
Relax. I’m here to make the case that charred meat is not to be feared. It may actually be good for you, hormetically boosting your general ability to neutralize and dispose of dietary toxins. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the animal and human studies, combined with a deeper look at the evolutionary record, aided by the perspective of modern toxicology. I think it may change your mind.