Smoking meat is a cooking process used to add flavor to meat from the smoke of the plant material used to cook it, such as mesquite, oak or hickory. While you may enjoy the smoky flavors added to your meat using this method of cookery, it may not be the best method for your health. Smoked meats have been linked to both cancer and heart disease.
To smoke meat, cook it in closed environment so that the meat is exposed to the flavorful smoke. Not only does smoking cook and add flavor to the meat, but it also acts as a preservative. However, the smoking process increases the meats exposure to a carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH. These carcinogens are formed when the animal fat from the meat hits the heat source and creates smoke, which is the path of the PAH to the meat.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
PAH's are a group of chemicals formed during the incomplete burning of meat. Volcanoes, forest fires, coal burning and car exhaust are also sources of PAH. Exposure to high amounts of PAH can be detrimental to your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that mice fed high amounts of PAH had difficulty reproducing and had higher rates of birth defects. However, it is not known if these same effects occur in humans. However, PAH is a known carcinogen, and long-term exposure increases risk of cancer.
Eating too much smoked meat increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. According to 2007 study published in "Epidemiology", postmenopausal women with high intakes of grilled, barbecued or smoked meats over their lifetime had a 74 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer. It is important to note that the women in the study with the high meat intakes also has lower intakes of fruits and vegetables. Researchers stated that the PAH in the smoked meat may be partly responsible for the increased risk.
In addition to increasing your risk of cancer, eating smoked meats may also increase your risk of heart disease. A 2010 meta-analysis study published in "Circulation" investigated the effects of meat intake, specifically red meat versus processed meat, on heart disease risk. The study found a higher incidence of heart disease in the processed meat eaters, which includes smoked meat, when compared to those eating more fresh red meat. The researches note that the information obtained in the study is preliminary, and more research is necessary before formal recommendations can be made.