There are several compounds found in red meat after cooking or processing that have carcinogenic potential. These compounds are not inherent to the red meat, but are side-effects of introducing either foreign chemicals during preservation or from treating the meat with fire.
They are Heterocyclic Amines (henceforth HCAs), Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (henceforth PAHs) and Nitrosamines (henceforth NAs).
To look at their relationship with cancer, please read this FAQ page.
Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons are formed during incomplete combustion of fatty acids from meats, which occurs during periods of low oxygen exposure. Although they can be produced to an extent during most cooking processes such as frying or grilling, they are produced most when inadequate oxygen is supplied to the meat or temperatures exceed 250C. They are of most concern when grilling burgers to a crisp in a non-ventilated hood.
There is no inherent way to prevent PAH formation in meats aside from allowing sufficient oxygen to reach the meat and to keep cooking temperatures low.
Nitrosamines are formed when dietary nitrates are paired with amino acids, and the most common meat sources of nitrates are found in 'pink meats' such as ham, pork, and bacon due to being great preservatives.
Combining nitrates with reducing agents can prevent a good deal of nitrosamine formation, and is a reason why dietary nitrates from vegetables are not associated with increased cancer risk as are the nitrates added to meat products (as vegetables have plenty of reducing agents). 'Reducing agents' is sometimes synonymous with 'anti-oxidants', and Vitamin C is the standard research molecule to prevent nitrosamine formation.
'Nitrates' and 'Nitrites' are almost identical, just nitrites are the oxidized form and nitrates the reduced form. Nitrates cannot form nitrosamines, but nitrites can; thus keeping as much of this molecule in the reduced form via reducing agents confers a protective effect after ingestion.
Nitrosamines are not inherently carcinogenic, but are through their degradation product called methyl carbonium which nitrosamines can degrade into but nitrates cannot.
Related Nutrition Articles
- Are nitrates from beetroot and processed meats the same thing?
- 5 supplements (and foods) for a stronger heart
- What is creatine nitrate?
- What is the best form of creatine?
- 4 science-based “superfoods” you should consider eating
- Is processed meat bad for me?
- Can creatine cause cancer?
- Scientists found that red meat causes cancer ... or did they?
- Does red meat cause cancer?
- Do muscle building supplements cause testicular cancer?
- Do MCTs or CLA help with appetite reduction?
- Can eating too much protein be bad for you?
- What beneficial compounds are primarily found in animal products?
- Fact check: does glutamine build muscle?
- Does ejaculation affect testosterone levels?
- Supplementing for better joint health
- Do herbal aphrodisiacs work?
- Can food have negative calories?
- Gibis M, Weiss J. Inhibitory effect of marinades with hibiscus extract on formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines and sensory quality of fried beef patties . Meat Sci. (2010)
- Smith JS, Ameri F, Gadgil P. Effect of marinades on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks . J Food Sci. (2008)
- Melo A, et al. Effect of beer/red wine marinades on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in pan-fried beef . J Agric Food Chem. (2008)
- Gibis M. Effect of oil marinades with garlic, onion, and lemon juice on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in fried beef patties . J Agric Food Chem. (2007)
- Jägerstad M, Skog K. Genotoxicity of heat-processed foods . Mutat Res. (2005)
- Knize MG, et al. Food heating and the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon mutagens/carcinogens . Adv Exp Med Biol. (1999)
- Phillips DH. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the diet . Mutat Res. (1999)
- Lijinsky W. The formation and occurrence of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons associated with food . Mutat Res. (1991)
- Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits . Am J Clin Nutr. (2009)
- Tannenbaum SR. Preventive action of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation . Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. (1989)
- Kessler H, Husemann B, Wagner W. Potential protective effect of vitamin C on carcinogenesis caused by nitrosamine in drinking water: an experimental study on Wistar rats . Eur J Surg Oncol. (1992)
- Liu YX, Guttenplan JB. Mutational specificities of N-nitrosamines in a host-mediated assay: comparison with direct-acting N-nitroso compounds in vitro and an approach to deducing the nature of ultimate mutagens in vivo . Mol Carcinog. (1992)