Many of us are pondering whether eating burnt food leads to unhealthy consequences. Is it true that burnt food causes cancer? Should we completely give up on eating our favourite French fries, barbecued ribs and potato chips?
Grilled or barbecued food sounds great to many of us. We also very much enjoy our mug of coffee made from roasted coffee beans first thing in the morning. French fries are a must to many of us who hit the restaurants and cafés for lunch, dinner and other meals. Many of us are so accustomed to eating food that has been cooked at high temperatures, especially the ones that have charred or burnt a little bit. Surely some of us are wondering whether burnt food is really bad for our health; especially when there is an on-going claim that burnt food causes cancer. To answer this question we have to know what happens to food when they are overcooked or burnt.
Burnt food and its nutritional value
A big disadvantage of burning food, such as when the food is being barbecued, grilled, pan-fried, deep-fried or broiled, is that on overcooking, the food loses many of its beneficial nutrients. Overcooking food, destroys nutrients such as water soluble vitamins, denatures proteins, and changes the structure of fats and carbohydrates, ridding the food of the benefits these vital nutrients bring to food. Altered structure of carbohydrates results in an increase in the glycaemic index of the food. When the structure of fats such as those found in vegetable oils change due to overcooking or reheating, unhealthy fats such as trans fats are created. In this regard, those who are opting to eat healthily should definitely avoid eating burnt food on a regular basis.
Burnt food and carcinogens
High temperature cooking of meats, as in pan-frying, grilling, barbecuing etc., creates carcinogenic compounds called Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They are produced in higher quantities if the food is cooked for a long time or if the food is directly exposed to open flame. The amount of these compounds in cooked food depends on the method and duration of cooking. It is found that significant amounts of HCAs are not seen in foods other than meat that is cooked at high temperatures. Cooking methods other than grilling or barbecuing, for example smoking of fish or meat, can also lead to the formation of PAHs.