Smoked foods, known for their delicious flavors, are now under scrutiny for potential health risks.
As barbecue grills and smokers continue to be the centerpiece of gatherings, it’s important to consider the health hazards associated with these culinary creations.
The unspoken risks behind smoked cuisine may be serving up more than just delicious bites, and it’s time to face the uncomfortable truth.
A medical doctor, Dr. Olawale Ogunlana in a video he tweeted on his X [formerly Twitter] handle @olawalesmd, described Nigerians and smoked foods as five and six; from mangala to panla, suya and monitor lizard, among others.
Smoking, according to him, requires using wooden smoked to dry and process food like meat, fish and vegetables. He however disclosed that as it is giving the food an irresistible flavour, it is also depositing significant amount of harmful substances into it.
“Now, smoking exposes foods to higher levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). These chemicals are mutagenics, which means, they can put you at risk of cancers, especially the stomach types,” he said.
While he encouraged Nigerians to reduce their intake of smoked foods, he urged them to also cut their salt in-take to 5grams per day to reduce their risk of developing stomach cancer
A publication by Cleveland Clinic reveals that the same process that makes smoked foods taste so good also contaminates them.
Culbertson Gillian, a dietitian at Cleveland Clinic explains that the smoke itself is a source of contaminants that can be harmful; adding that harmful substances called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) form, when meat is cooked at very high temperatures.
“Though grilled and pan-fried meats can also lead to the formation of PAHs and HCAs, studies show that smoking leads to higher levels of contamination. During the smoking process, the smoke both creates these substances and carries them onto the surface of the meat.
“These compounds are created when fluids and fat drip from the meat onto the heat source and as a byproduct of the smoke.
“Aromatic rings are formed, creating these harmful compounds that are transported to the meat from the smoke. High exposure to these compounds can lead to increased risk of cancer of the intestinal tract, notably colon and stomach cancer,” Culbertson said.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also warns that both HCAs and PAHs are mutagenic, meaning they can cause changes to your DNA that put you at risk for certain types of cancer.
Some recent research suggests that red and processed meats, including smoked meats, may increase your risk of breast and prostate cancer.
In fact, processed meat, which include smoked meat, has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Group one carcinogenic based on evidence of its link to colorectal cancer.
Aside, the risk of cancer, smoked, processed meats and red meats have also been associated with a higher risk of a variety of health conditions, including: stroke, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
It is however important to note that it’s not just meat, as smoked cheeses have also been found to contain those harmful PAHs, too.
Culbertson said that testing has found PAH in the interior of the cheese, but it’s concentrated in the rind. “That’s not to say you can never enjoy a smoked gouda or gruyere again but keep your processed cheese intake to a minimum, and cut off that rind before you dig in.”