Barbequed Meat: A Health Tip

          In recent decades, growing evidence has mounted regarding the health effects of a group of compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are generated on the surfaces of meats cooked at excessively high temperatures (i.e. frying, grilling, and barbequing).  Among the most mutagenic substances ever studied, HCAs have been implicated as a cause for several cancers in humans including breast, prostate, pancreatic, as well as colorectal cancer.  Unfortunately, popular muscle meats such as beef, pork, fowl, and fish are all subject to HCA formation as a result of these cooking practices.  However, since HCA formation is temperature dependent, meat that is well done or slightly burned will tend to have higher levels of HCAs than that which is prepared medium or rare.  Fortunately, there are tricks to cooking that will limit HCA levels in the meat you cook without forcing you to abandon your favorite cooking practices.  One helpful tip is provided below.

Reducing Your Exposure via Microwave Pretreatment

            A useful technique for reducing HCA formation involves the brief microwaving of meat prior to cooking.  Following this process, juices produced by the meat are to be drained and discarded.  Though you may think such juices are made up solely of water and fat, they in fact contain the key precursors to HCA production; namely, amino acids, glucose, and creatine.  By removing these substances prior to cooking, you are reducing the potential for HCAs to form.  One study showed that microwaving a beef patty for two minutes and discarding the resulting juices prior to cooking reduced total HCA levels by a factor of three when cooking at 200 °C and a factor nine when cooking at 250 °C, this is an enormous reduction!

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                                                                                                             -Shahir Masri


  1. How long do I have to leave my meat in the microwave - till it becomes brown on the outside or just a few seconds?

  2. Just a couple of minutes to let some of the fat and other juices run off.

  3. Does this apply only to charcoal barbecuing or does it including propane too?

  4. I thought it was better to preferably avoid using the microwave because of the radiation. How is this possible?

  5. This is a surprise to me. What if you only consume a small amount of HCA, is this going to dangerous too or does it have to be a large amount of HCA that can lead to these medical problem?