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WCRF/AICR
Global Network

For Immediate Release: April 30, 2008

Contacts: Shannon Campbell 202-328-7744 x235
Glen Weldon 202-328-7744 x312

Cancer Experts Issue Seasonal Warning on Grilling --
With an Important Research Update

Smart Precautions Can Reduce Grilling Risks,
But What You Grill Should be Central Concern

WASHINGTON, DC – This year, as Americans make ready to fire up millions of backyard grills, there’s a new scientific wrinkle: according to an exhaustive analysis of international research on diet and cancer, it’s time to start looking for an alternative to the humble hot dog.

Experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) are marking the onset of cookout season by issuing their yearly advice on ways to lower potential cancer risks associated with grilling. But this year, new information has come to light on the precise nature of those risks, and AICR’s advice reflects this development with a shift in emphasis.

According to AICR, what you grill is the most important issue. US consumption of hot dogs and hamburgers soars during cookout season, and a recently published landmark AICR report on diet and cancer prevention concluded that diets high in red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and especially processed meats (such as hot dogs) are now a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.

Based on this report, AICR recommends limiting consumption of red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) per week. But the evidence on diets high in processed meat is even more troubling: according to the AICR report’s analysis of the available evidence, every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of processed meat eaten per day increases risk for colorectal cancer by 42 percent. Because of this, AICR now advises avoiding hot dogs – along with sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats.

The AICR expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, reviewed over 7000 studies on all aspects of diet and cancer risk.

Experts Put Risks in Perspective

Compared to such clear and compelling risks, the risks associated with the grilling process itself should be of secondary concern. It is clear that grilling animal products (both red and white meat) causes potent carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to arise within food.

These substances have been shown in laboratory experiments to trigger the cancer process. The AICR report concluded that there is limited but suggestive evidence that these substances factor in human cancer, providing one more reason to limit consumption of red and processed meat, however it is cooked.

“We get asked about the risks of grilling every year about this time, and this year the AICR expert report helps put them in perspective,” said AICR Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, MS, RD.

“There are risks associated with the grilling process, and it makes sense to take precautions to reduce those risks. But keep an eye on the big picture: the evidence is now overwhelming that red meat – especially processed red meats like hot dogs – is a cause of colorectal cancer. So instead of seeing cookout season as incentive to eat more of these foods, look on it as an opportunity to try new things.”

Explore Other Grilling Options

Grilling vegetables and fruit produces no HCAs or PAHs, and thus poses no potential cancer risks. Diets high in plant foods are associated with reduced risk of several cancers.

What about turkey burgers and hot dogs made from turkey or chicken?

Unlike red and processed meat, neither poultry nor seafood has been linked to cancer. But because turkey hot dogs and similar products haven’t been well studied, scientists can’t yet determine if those foods affect cancer risk. The possibility cannot be dismissed, because if, for example, turkey hot dogs are processed in the same manner as beef hot dogs, and some aspect of processing (such as the addition of nitrates) is found to be responsible for increased risk, then turkey hot dogs may confer similar risk. More research is needed.

Note that grilling any form of poultry or fish does produce HCAs and PAHs, so people may choose to take precautions that can minimize the production of these carcinogens.

Smart Precautions Reduce Grilling Risks
If you do choose to cook any kind of meat on the grill this year:

  • Select smaller cuts of meat, such as kabobs, and limit your portion size.
  • Select leaner cuts, to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which deposit carcinogens on the meat.
  • You can also reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat to drain.
  • Try a marinade. Some laboratory research suggests that even briefly marinating meat significantly reduces the formation of HCAs.
  • Partially pre-cook meat briefly in the microwave before grilling, to speed up grilling time.
  • Flip meat frequently, which reduces the amount of carcinogens that arise.

The New American (Picnic) Plate

This cookout season, the most important thing to do is to make sure that meat – especially processed meat – isn’t the focus of your meals.

Fill at least 2/3 of your picnic plate with plant foods like salads, beans and grains. Leave a bit of room – 1/3 of your plate or less – for whatever meat you’ve cooked up. That’s a meal model AICR calls the New American Plate, and it’s a pattern of eating that helps you maintain a healthy weight while conferring protection against cancer and other chronic disease.

***

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org); and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (www.fmrc.fr).

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