The WHO recently published a report stating that meats cooked at high temperatures forms carcinogens. I was wondering if this applies to cooking fish as well?

Excellent question! I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece on this very topic. Click here to view.

The WHO report states that those who consumed 50 grams of processed meats a day (ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pastrami) had an 18% higher risk of colorectal cancer. This amount would be equivalent to one small hot dog or two slices of bacon. Likewise, a correlation was found between eating red meat (100 grams a day = ~3.5 oz) and increased cancer risk. Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, and lamb. Scientists admit that more research is needed to figure out why these meats increase risk of colorectal cancer. They state “it may be the added nitrites and nitrates, the smoking and/or high temperatures used in some processing, or the heme iron in the red meat.”

It has long been recommended to limit meat cooked at high temperatures. This method of cooking meat can produce carcinogens including heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). Cooking any animal flesh at high temperatures may produce these carcinogens, fish included. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of HCA’s and PAH’s that are produced. First, lower the temperature! Grilling meat/fish at a lower temperature can help reduce the formation of these chemicals. Next, select a lean meat or fish. Leaner cuts have less fat which can drip onto the grill, causing flare ups that can deposit carcinogens in meat. Finally, marinade the meat or fish before grilling. Several studies suggest that marinating meat can reduce HCA formation by 96 percent!

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