The way we prepare our foods can be as important as how we select them. Cooking foods at high temperatures for a period of time changes their molecular structure. For example, when starchy foods such as potato and cereal products are cooked at a high temperature for a period of time (such as in potato chips and french fries) the starch undergoes a chemical transformation. A compound called acrylamide is formed. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals. The possible effect on human health in unclear. However, many of us take heed when studies produce this type of information. On the positive side, there is research being performed to test compounds that may stop the chemical reaction that causes acrylamide to form. A similar transformation occurs in muscle proteins (beef, chicken, pork, and fish) that are grilled at high temperatures. Compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) are formed when the amino acid creatinine is broken down during high heat cooking. HCA’s have been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. Additionally, meats that are cured or smoked also increase exposure to cancer-causing agents. When cooking protein foods, such as beef, pork, poultry, and seafood, partially pre-cook them (baking or pressure cooking are a few suggestions) and then place them on the grill to “finish them off.” Or you can cook them at lower temperatures and avoid eating the burnt pieces. Steaming, poaching, stewing, braising are all are lower heat methods of cooking. This does not mean one should stop barbecuing, eating french fries or potato chips all together. Many of us enjoy those foods far too much. And let’s face it, for many Americans barbecuing is a tradition. It just means we now have more information regarding changes that can occur in products exposed to high heat. It is up to you what you put in your body. For a healthy individual, eating and enjoying these foods in reasonable portions and on an occasional basis should be fine. You can check with your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns. On another positive note, fruits and vegetables do not undergo the same chemical reaction (they don’t have the amino acid the muscle meats contain). Overcooking them, however, does reduce the vitamin content.
1. , December 19, 2005.
2. , May 3, 2005.
3.Daniells, S. “Common Food Additives May Cut Acrylamide Formation.” September 24, 2006.

Author's Bio: 

Susan Piergeorge, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian and a member of the American Dietetic Association. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition, Master of Science in Human Resource Development Administration, and a Professional Culinary certificate. Her career has included nutritional consulting, health promotion, culinary and food industry experience. She has a passion for health, wellness and food. She believes that taking care of oneself should be a part of everyday living and is achievable. It comes down to the matter of making you the priority. By doing so, it can create for more balance and pleasure in life. Her blog is