Fri, Sep 24, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Barbecuing is bad for your health and Earth’s

By Chen Wei-hwa 陳惟華

One kilo of barbecued meat creates 39.7kg of carbon dioxide.

For many years, organizing a barbeque to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival has been a popular family activity. However, apart from the fact that barbequing creates many different types of strong carcinogens, barbecuing excessive amounts of meat and other foods creates harmful black carbon residue, which speeds up the pace at which Arctic sea ice and icebergs in the Antarctic melt, thus contributing to rises in the sea level and extreme weather changes.

As for the carcinogenic aspect of barbecued meat, the proteins found in white and red meats create heterocyclic amines when heated, while heating animal fat creates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. There is endogenous nitrite in E. coli bacteria from livestock, and meat products also contain exogenous nitrite that is added during the processing stage. When cooked at high heat, they cause nitrosamines, while the juices of barbecued meat cause smoke and fumes and starchy foods create acrylamide. These are all carcinogens that can seriously harm cells and genes.

Second, burned, overcooked meat is a strong carcinogen in itself and we should throw away such meat instead of eating it. However, we also have to be careful not to undercook the meat lest the risks of gastroenteritis and parasitic infection increase.

In addition, when barbecuing, we tend to eat more meat than normal and fail to add an adequate intake of fruit and vegetables, which this results in nutritional imbalances. Furthermore, processed foods are high in oil and salt and are best consumed sparingly.

I would suggest barbecuing vegetables such as green peppers, mushrooms, beans and dried tofu instead of the vast quantities of meat traditionally consumed during barbecues. I would also suggest wrapping the food in aluminum foil before barbecuing it to avoid carcinogenic smoke getting onto the food.

At the same time, we should try to increase vitamin C intake by eating more vegetables and fruit, such as kiwis, guava, bananas and lemons, as they contain anti-oxidants.

In terms of what barbecuing does to the environment, the Environmental Protection Administration has released figures showing that 1kg of meat cooked with 1kg of charcoal produces 39.7kg of carbon dioxide, which would take more than three years for one tree to absorb.

NASA scientists have discovered that charcoal grilling where the charcoal is never fully burned out creates soot particles or black carbon which will have a serious impact on climate change because the warming effect of black carbon is 680 times higher than carbon dioxide.

Mark Jacobson of Stanford University discovered that biomass such as fuels and trees cause black carbon if not burned thoroughly and that this is one of the major reasons for the melting of Arctic sea ice. Black carbon particles can travel several thousands of kilometers via the wind and scientists have discovered that these particles settle on top of ice rivers or the Arctic icecap where they absorb heat because of their dark color. This then speeds up the melting process.

It has also been discovered that half of the black carbon in the area of Antarctica that is suffering from the quickest warming has come from regions along the Amazon River where slash-and-burn methods have been used to cultivate land for raring livestock.

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