Q: How to avoid forming carcinogens when cooking?
There are two types of carcinogens produced during food preparation (heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Heterocyclic amines are formed when muscle meats are cooked at high temperatures (deep-frying, shallow-frying, grilling and barbequeing). Hence you could use lower temperature cooking methods or partially cook meats in the microwave before high temperature cooking to lower the level of heterocyclic amines. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when fat drops on hot fire during grilling or barbequeing foods with intense heat over a direct flame and sticks onto the surface of food. Charcoal produces less polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons than wood. Hardwoods produces less polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons than other woods. Despite the experimental evidence that demonstrates these carcinogens are produced during these high temperature cooking methods, there is a lack of epidemiological evidence to clearly link cancer to consumption of foods prepared using these high temperature cooking methods. Thus, there is no specific recommendation by the World Cancer Research Fund to avoid these methods of cookery but they do emphasise that “it is prudent not to consume burned or charred foods frequently or in large amounts.”
In summary, use lower temperature cooking methods, limit barbequeing/grilling and choose charcoal over wood. Most importantly avoid eating burnt or charred foods!