Can You Get Cancer From Your Dinner?
It's no fun organising barbeques anymore, especially with the threat of cancer-causing carcinogens in every bite. But, will you really get cancer from eating some charred meat?
Hot Dogs Cause Stomach Cancer
Hot dogs contain preservatives known as nitrites, which are proven carcinogens. And it’s not just limited to the weiners. Swedish researchers have shown that people who eat more than 85g of processed meat daily – that includes ham, sausage, bacon and salami – have a 15 per cent higher risk of developing stomach cancer than those who eat 50g or less. Now, that’s hard to swallow. The best types of meats are those that are fresh or frozen, as they’re mostly preservative-free. Another reason to stay away from processed meats is this: Apart from possibly giving you cancer, they also often have up to twice the fat and 25 times the salt of unprocessed meat.
Microwaved Food Is Carcinogenic
Research conducted by scientists at Cornell University has indicated that microwaved food actually contains less carcinogens than flame-heated ones. “Microwaving our food may change its DNA and reduce its nutrition, but it doesn’t typically cause cancer,” says Dr See. However, doing this to your food in polycarbonate containers can cause carcinogenic bisphenol A (BPA) to leach into your food, and that can cause cancer.
To be sure you’re not ingesting cancer-causing compounds, avoid storing your food in polycarbonate containers that are marked with “#7” at the bottom. Instead, use Pete plastics that are labelled “#1”. (Refer to the table below to find out what the numbers mean.)
Most importantly, never microwave your food in “#7” plastic containers. To be sure, always look for the microwave-safe label at the bottom of your container.
Is Your Container Safe For Storing Food?
|Type of Plastic||Food-Friendly?|
|#1||PETE - Polyethylene Terephtalate||Safe|
|#2||HDPE - High Density Polyethylene||Safe|
|#3||PVC or "V" - Polyvinyl Chloride||Avoid - contains toxins|
|#4||LDPE - Low-Density Polyethylene||Safe|
|#5||PP - Polypropylene||Safe|
|#6||PS - Polystyrene||Do not use to contain hot food; they might leach styrene|
|#7||OTHER - Unclassifiables, including polycarbonates||Generally avoid, although not all plastic containers labelled "#7" contain BPAs. Check the manufacturer's label for clarification.|
Charred Meat Causes Colorectal Cancer
Cooking meat and fish at high temperatures speeds up the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are carcinogenic compounds formed in the cooked muscle of meats. Researchers have found that people who munch on lots of meat with burnt edges – whether fried, barbecued or grilled – have an increased risk of getting pancreatic, prostate and colorectal cancer.
Incidentally, colorectal is now the most contracted cancer in Singapore. The Health Promotion Board is spearheading a nationwide colorectal cancer screening initiative, which will help doctors detect the cancer before it spreads. (Go to hpb.gov.sg for more details.) “For healthier barbecues, marinate your meats with rosemary to cut down the amount of HCAs formed during the grilling process,” says food chemistry professor J. Scott Smith of Kansas State University in the US. Rosemary is a known antioxidant and can reduce HCA formation by up to 79 per cent.
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