According to preliminary research presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, grilling and other high-temperature methods of cooking could make even the healthiest meats — such as chicken, seafood, and lean beef — a danger to your health. People who regularly consume meat cooked well done could have a risk of higher blood pressure.
The study followed over 100,000 people, recording their cooking methods and blood pressures for an average of 12 to 16 years. In participants who ate at least two servings of red meat, chicken, or fish per week, the risk of high blood pressure was 15 to 17 percent higher based on factors related to cooking at high temperatures.
One apparent risk factor: eating meat well done. The researchers found that the risk of high blood pressure was 15 percent higher in those who preferred their meat cooked thoroughly as compared to those who preferred rarer meat.
The researchers also found a 17 percent higher risk of high blood pressure in those who ate grilled, broiled, or roasted meat more than 15 times per month compared to those who did so less than four times per month. Both factors relate to the consumption of heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) — chemicals that form in meat cooked at high temperatures. The researchers found that those who consumed the most HAAs overall were at 17 percent higher risk for high blood pressure.
The researchers noted that these findings do not prove that well-done meat or meat that is grilled or broiled causes high blood pressure. Rather, it simply indicates that Americans should take this into consideration when choosing how to order and cook their meals.
Gang Liu, Ph.D., lead author of the study, explained that “chemicals produced by cooking meats at high temperatures induce oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance in animal studies,” which he thinks could be linked to high blood pressure.
It’s no secret that charring your meat can add carcinogens to food — but now that it can be linked to high blood pressure as well, the question is whether those risks are high enough to affect your day-to-day life.
“The relative risk for high blood pressure isn’t the only health concern related to intake of grilled meats,” registered dietitian Katrina A. Trisko told The Daily Meal. “The National Cancer Institute has also warned that excess consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats has the potential to increase your risk for certain types of cancers.”
Charlie Seltzer, MD, physician and clinical exercise specialist, told The Daily Meal, “Grilling may certainly produce carcinogenic chemicals! The real question is whether that risk is relevant in the real world.”
The experts we spoke with offered some practical advice based on these and other studies, namely, don't try to avoid eating every single food that could potentially be linked to health problems. Instead, focus on a balanced diet that consists of a variety of foods and preparation methods.
“There are so many other factors including physical activity, genetics, stress, and lifestyle habits such as smoking, that all play a role in our overall health risk,” Trisko confirmed. “As with most things, moderation is key.”
Trisko suggests opting to cook the majority of your meals in different ways throughout the week. “Baking, stewing, slow-cooking, and sautéing are all healthy alternatives to grilling,” she says.
Seltzer warns that fretting over these preliminary results could lead you “down a rabbit hole of worrying about potential environmental factors that can kill you, which may end up driving you insane.”
Because, let’s face it — it would be really tough to eliminate all the common foods that could raise your blood pressure.