In a dramatic study, women who ate hamburger, steak, and bacon “very well done” were more than 4½ times as likely to get breast cancer as women who ate these meats cooked “rare” or “medium” (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Nov 18, 1998).
How come? Could be nasty compounds called heterocyclic amines (HAs) that form in meat when it’s cooked beyond the “just done” stage, says Mark Knize, HA project leader at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, CA. In animals, HAs are known to cause cancer.
For meat with the least HAs, follow these tips:
- Roast, steam, or stew. Oven roasting makes it easier to control temperature and avoid overcooking. Steaming or stewing keeps meat moist, which inhibits the formation of HAs.
- Avoid grilling, broiling, or frying until the charred stage. When the meat dries out, more HAs can form.
- If you must grill, marinate first. If you marinate chicken before you grill it, the levels of HAs drop dramatically.
- Don’t undercook. Do cook meat beyond the “rare” or “medium-rare” stage to just done to make sure you kill illness-causing bacteria.
- Go veggie. HAs form only in muscle tissue. By grilling vegetables and switching to soy burgers, you eliminate HAs completely. One soy burger to try: the Boca Burger, which some think has a fast-food burger taste.