Updated 23 September 2011

Have a cancer-free braai

Planning a braai with your family and friends? Here are a few ways to limit the cancer-causing substances in your braai meat.


Your fridge is stocked with boerewors, lamb chops and marinated chicken and your invites have been sent out: this summer holiday you're not going to miss out on a good old braai.

Due to a possible link to cancer, braai meat has had some bad press over the last couple of years. The good news is that researchers have now found ways to limit the cancer-causing substances.

Among the cancer-causing compounds in cooked meat are heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are created when heat acts on amino acids, and creatinine in animal muscle.

The longer the cooking time and the higher the heat, the more HCAs, say experts at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Centre. That means that braaing produces the most HCAs, followed by pan-frying and grilling. Baking, poaching, stir-frying and stewing produce the least HCAs.

The UC Davis experts offer the following advice for limiting HCAs:

  • Before you braai meat, partially cook it in the microwave and then throw out the juices that collect in the cooking dish. Finish cooking the meat on the grill. Precooking a hamburger for a few minutes in the microwave reduces HCAs by up to 95%.
  • Flip meat often. Doing so every minute reduces HCAs by up to 100%. This is likely because constant flipping keeps internal meat temperatures lower.
  • Marinate meat before braaing. This can greatly reduce HCAs. For example, one study found that chicken marinated for 40 minutes in a mixture of brown sugar, olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic, mustard, lemon juice and salt cut HCAs by 92% to 99%.
  • Don't cook meat to "well done". Use a meat thermometer and cook poultry to an internal temperature of 74-82 degrees Celsius, ground beef, pork and lamb to 71-77 degrees Celsius, and beef steaks and roasts to 63-71 degrees Celsius.
  • One or two days before your braai, eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts. These vegetables contain compounds that activate enzymes in the body that detoxify HCAs.

- (HealthDayNews, updated December 2012)

Read more:

Herbs protect meat on the braai
16 ways to avoid cancer
Lifestyle and diet as causal factors of cancer


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