Forum: Cancer risk also linked to how food is cooked

While it is true that eating Bee Cheng Hiang barbecued meat slices carries with it a real but limited risk of increasing one’s risk of developing cancer if taken even in moderation, the Hong Kong consumer watchdog has committed a sin of omission by not including other food with similar links to cancer (Carcinogenic compounds found in Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa, March 17).

Eating any deep fried, barbecued or too well-done food carries with it an increased exposure to potentially carcinogenic heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This is not limited to pork and certainly not unique to Bee Cheng Hiang products.

The risk is greater still with red or preserved processed meats and the use of charcoal as the roasting agent, but the healthier equivalents of fish and chicken are not spared the harmful effects of acrylamide formed through the frying process.

It would certainly be interesting to see how Hong Kong’s renowned processed sausages stand up to the test of grilling and frying. 

Food preparation methods are every bit as important as the choice of food we put on the dining table. Baking or roasting at lower temperatures, poaching, steaming, pressure cooking and double boiling are the preferred salutary ways to go, even if nothing beats the aroma and taste of deep-fried and barbecued fatty meat.

There is also a lot of science in the study of which oils are best for which method of food preparation; the link between health and how food is prepared is far more complex than what the consumer statement suggests.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

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