MIAMI (CBSMiami) — It’s the familiar sizzle that comes with warm weather. The sun is out, barbecues are in full swing. But it’s what’s hiding inside that meat you’ve cooked that can hurt your health in the long run.
Dr. Jim Felton has spent years researching how and why meats that you cook can potentially cause cancer. Felton and his team of researchers at the U.C. Davis Cancer Center looked at meat as a muscle.
Whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, you name it, cooking at certain temperatures can cause a chemical reaction inside the muscle that promotes carcinogens.
“These reactions take a while to get going and they need a certain temperature over 300 to 350 degrees,” Felton said.
Felton and his team tried to figure out how to prevent that internal heating from happening, and they found their answer in something many grillers already use: marinade.
“The actual concept here is by coating the meat with a marinade, you’re cooling it off,” Felton said.
The marinade acts as an insulator. It cooks faster on the outside, allowing the meat to heat throughout without reaching the 300-350 mark. The American Institute of Cancer Research shows using a marinade can reduce carcinogens by as much as 92 to 99 percent.
But the appearance of the meat can be deceiving. When we showed two different pictures of a piece of chicken to visitors at a park, they all picked the unmarinated piece since it looked darker.
But Felton says all that black is no big deal.
“It’s actually the fat dripping down on your charcoal briquettes of your grill that comes back onto meat to coat it and make it black,” he said. “In the chicken we didn’t marinate that looked pale, but it was well-done, it had more carcinogens because the marinade wasn’t protecting it.”
But it’s not just marinating your meat—there are other ways to protect yourself too.
Felton says you can pre-cook your meats in a microwave. Just a few minutes in a microwave will cause the meat to release a liquid, and those liquids are chemicals that are precursors to carcinogens.
Or you can be a nervous cooker. Flipping your meat often has been shown to help.
“Each time you turn it, it cools off and the meat doesn’t have a chance to reach internal temperatures needed for this reaction to take place,” Felton said.
But even after all of his research, Felton says unless you’re eating overcooked meats at every meal, you shouldn’t shy away from grilling up your favorite foods.
“These are lifetime accumulated exposures people get that give them cancer, so having a bite of the well-done meat once a month isn’t giving them cancer,” he said. “It’s the person who really likes their meat and continues to cook it at high temperatures that’s exposed to carcinogens.”