1/ When meats are cooked at high temperatures, the combination of protein, sugars and the creatine found in muscle produce carcinogenic compounds called HCAs (short for heterocyclic amines—not to be confused with the PAHs that form when fats drip on the flames, which then contaminate your food.)
The reaction seems to start at around 300 degrees F; the higher the temp, the greater the contaminants. The longer the cooking time, ditto. And some animals seem more prone than others: Chicken has 100 times more HCAs than salmon, according to one study. Another study found that rotisserie chicken topped hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon and deli meats in HCAs. And the skin of that rotisserie chicken–another yikes. It had lots more HCAs than all the meats.
For certain, HCAs cause cancer in lab animals. And “diets high in HCAs from meat increase people’s risk of stomach, breast and colon cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.” But to be perfectly honest, the evidence linking HCAs and cancer in humans is mixed, with some studies showing a connection and others not.
Plus, nature does offer some protection: Marinate the chicken in rosemary extract. Add garlic, fresh herbs, spices. All of these contain anti-oxidants that will help protect against HCA formation in the first place.
2/ But that doesn’t arrest the second problem with the beloved roasted chicken: the layer of fat just underneath the skin. Yes, the place where you stuff those cloves of garlic, the body part that renders the bird all juicy and tasty—It’s bad for you. It’s filled with a type of polyunsaturated omega 6 fat that’s highly inflammatory–arachidonic acid. And the science here is substantial. To quote a 2012 review: “Several recent epidemiologic studies have found a positive association between dietary omega-6 PUFAs and breast cancer risk.” Compare the fowl fat to that found in wild salmon–omega 3 fatty acids predominantly, anti-inflammatory and a healthier option.
Sure, Grandma was often right with her intuition, but “nutrigenomics”—the study of how nutrition alters the expression of genes—was not in her vocabulary. Nor was “anti-cancer.” Ditch the roasted chicken, friends; bake or poach skinless breasts instead. We’re fortunate enough to live at a time when science screams for lifestyle choices.