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SECONDHAND FOOD SMOKE Image Credit: TRAIL
SECONDHAND FOOD SMOKE Image Credit: TRAIL

Secondhand Food Smoke

Dr Michael Greger of nutritionfacts.org is one of the leading authorities on nutrition's role in health (and also the lack thereof). His team analyses every English language peer-reviewed scientific paper published every year and reports on the findings.

One of his more worrying alerts from 2013 is about the dangers around the braai place, or from grilling certain foods. Some people love the taste of smoke-flavoured food, but could it be unhealthy, even cancer-promoting? Apparently so.

"The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the vapours released from cooking meat may be hazardous for fetal development, and increase the risk of cancer," says Greger in his article Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke.

He goes on to say: The last time I talked about this study was in the context of the carcinogens in the smell of frying bacon - the ability of the fumes generated by frying meat to mutate DNA, potentially explaining both the “increased risk of respiratory tract [cancer] among cooks” as well as the “lower proportion of deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer among vegetarians.”

This was borne out in a new study on the exposure of pregnant women to both the consumption of grilled meat, as well as just exposure to the airborne fumes of grilling meat - even if they didn’t eat it. Yes, the study found evidence that prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from a “diet including grilled meat might be hazardous for fetal development.” For example, the “effect of ingested barbecued meat consumed in the last pregnancy trimester resulted in a birth weight deficit of 165g,” a significantly smaller birth weight.

But, even if


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