Anti-Cancer Recipes: Beware the Roasted Chicken

roasted chicken is far from anti-cancerYikes. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you might want to reconsider Grandma’s precious recipe. Roasted chicken, it turns out, is more pro- than anti-cancerous. Here are two reasons why:

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. 

5 thoughts on “Anti-Cancer Recipes: Beware the Roasted Chicken

    • Omega 6s are fatty acids and reside in fat, so removing the fat (the skin plus that layer of fat beneath the skin) takes care of that problem, but the HCAs result from the combo of protein, sugars and the creatine in muscle being cooked at high temps. Cook the skinned breasts at a lower temperature (i.e, not roasted) instead.

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  1. Pingback: Grilled Za’atar Chicken with Cumin Aioli | recipe 2 recipe

  2. Haven’t had chicken for months, now finally got some ‘organic’ grass fed free range ‘happy’ chickens… is there any way to cook it that will be safe?? Or is it the cat’s lucky day?

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    • Grass fed is good–and hard to find. Just don’t cook it at a really high temp. And take off the skin as well as the layer below it. I like to make a version of pulled chicken–Poach chicken breasts until you can divide them up into strings, then mix the strings with some barbecue sauce and eat on a bed of greens.

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