The high-heat temperatures of grilling and barbecuing have long been associated with potentially producing cancer-causing substances. Some research suggests a possible connection between high-heat meat cooking and Type 2 diabetes.

Processors may incorporate grilled flavors into fresh meat and poultry through marinades, enabling home cooks to serve high-heat cooking flavors without the associated negatives. Grill and smoke flavors may also be incorporated into ready-to-eat meats to satisfy outdoor cooking cravings.

Researchers from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health’s Dept. of Nutrition found that frequent use of high-heat cooking methods (such as broiling, barbecuing/grilling and roasting) to prepare beef and chicken increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Based on data from three large cohorts followed for 12 to 16 years — including more than 289,000 men and women from the Nurses’ Health Studies and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study — researchers found that participants who most frequently ate meats and chicken cooked at high temperatures were 1.5 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, compared to those who ate the least. There was also an increased risk of weight gain and developing obesity in the frequent users of high-temperature cooking methods, which may have contributed to the development of diabetes.

The study, published in the March 2018 issue of Diabetes Care, showed that participants who ate red meat and chicken that were cooked to a well-done or charred level showed a significantly increased risk of Type 2 diabetes compared with those who ate meat and chicken that were lightly browned. According to the authors, the exact mechanisms contributing to the increased risk are not known, but they cite the potential role of harmful chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines and nitrosamines (from nitrates and nitrites added to meats as a preservative) formed during high-heat cooking. These chemicals may spur an inflammatory response, interfere with the normal production of insulin or promote insulin resistance in which the body cannot use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar levels.

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Moderate-temperature cooking methods such as stir-frying, sautéing, boiling or steaming provide a better-for-you option. To achieve smoky, charred flavors, marinades, rubs and sauces may assist.


“By incorporating a complex smoke or grill flavor to a seasoning or marinade, you bring an authentic, consistent eating experience to the consumer,” said Brad Weber, smoke and grill technical sales and applications at Red Arrow Products, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. “Caramelized, ashy, savory, smoky, roasted, charred, when fat drips from the meat and hits the coals, new flavors are created. It’s important to understand these complexities and capture all of the nuances.”

Elizabeth Lindemer, corporate executive chef, Fuchs North America, Hampstead, Maryland, said, “Flavors that reference particular preparation methods, such as roasting, smoking, charring, toasting and grilling, are all on the rise.”

Formulators must be aware that the Code of Federal Regulations specifies that when natural smoke flavor is added directly to food, it must be declared as either “natural smoke flavoring” or “smoke flavoring.” Artificial smoke flavoring must be labeled as such. Neither can be grouped with other flavors and declared as simply natural or artificial flavors. Other cooking flavors may be grouped with other flavors.