BBQ is Cancer Season

May 28, 2012

Torah Kachur

First - let's clarify something.  Everything, and I mean everything causes cancer.  Breathing causes cancer because reactive oxygen species are a byproduct of aerobic metabolism.  Existing causes cancer because everytime we walk outside we are exposed to UV rays that damage DNA.


It's no surprise that elements in our diet cause cancer too.  Although it is not the usual culprits, you would think that french fries and doughnuts cause cancer because they have absolutely no nutritional value and they are delicious.  They aren't exactly superfoods but the trans fats and acrylamide produced in these foods that have been the victim of a lot of talk on natural foods sites are certainly bad for you, they may just not increase the likelihood of cancers.  The American Cancer Society states that a link between trans fats and cancer "has not been determined".  Trans fats still cause coronary heart disease so don't think a supersize fries is in order.  Similarly, acrylamide certainly causes gastric cancers in rats if administered in high doses, but those doses would be impossible to obtain from the dietary sources of acrylamide like deep fried foods or baked goods. 



If doughnuts and fries don't cause cancer, what possibly could?  A delicious barbeque steak for one.  Charred meats cause the formation of two potent carcinogens - heterocyclic amines and nitrite.  Nitrite isn't carcinogenic on it's own, but in the high acid environment of the stomach it can be converted to nitrosamine - a known mutagen and carcinogen.  The worst sources are protein-rich meats that are blackened at high temperatures, in other words that delicious barbeque you just had last weekend as we finally scrape off our grills and live the American dream.


Another culprit is farmed fish.  Farmed salmon contains unusually high levels of 13 known toxins including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) which are strong carcinogens.  Wild fish seem to be fine.  There are substantial differences in farmed fish versus wild fish that go beyond price.


Cancer is inevitable in our population, but with a few dietary modifications you may just be able to increase your chances of being cancer free....and not eating some super yummy foods.



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