I have heard a lot of people say that smoked meat is bad for you and realize I have fallen into believing the Conventional Wisdom on that one. Is there any scientific basis to avoid smoked meats?
Smoked meat and fish do contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (quite nasty chemicals) produced from the incomplete combustion of the fuel being burnt. These are increased if the fat and juices are able to drip onto the fuel during the smoking. There are epidemiological links to several types of cancer particularly in populations that traditionally eat a lot of smoked meat or fish. Smoked meats also often contain high levels of salt.
There is good evidence of cooking hearths for about the last 400,000 years and it is likely that it has been longer but conclusive evidence has not survived. Cooking over an open fire produces much less exposure to smoke than deliberately smoking food. However people have most likely smoked foods for quite a while, although this not prove it is healthy. It is hard to evolve and adapt to something that only harms rarely and when people are old.
Despite all this any risk involved eating smoked meat or fish is probably quite small and mostly applies to regular high consumption, I wouldn't worry about it otherwise. I like a bit of smoked mackerel now and again.
By Simon Krasemann
A History of Smoke Preservation
FOODS HAVE BEEN PRESERVED BY SMOKE-CURING since before the dawn of recorded history. People in all cultures the world over have relied on the smoke-curing of fish and meat products for long-term storage.
It is important to make a distinction between smoking for preservation, and smoking for texture and flavour. Today the former is common in less developed countries where transportation and climate extremes may be a factor. The later is popular in developed countries where refrigeration and an integrated logistical infrastructure for the efficient transportation of perishables is in place.
In its simplest form smoking meat and fish is similar throughout the world depending on the end product desired. Preservation can be accomplished by first cutting the flesh into thin strips and then drying them slowly over a fire — or in the sun in northern climes).
Packed as dried smoked products, these can travel great distances and remain edible for long periods of time. In all these processes, drying is of paramount importance for preservation, because it is moisture in the flesh that permits bacterial activity and spoilage. Salt accelerates the removal of water and hence its widespread use as a traditional perservative. Further, the application of extracts from the smoke (phenols, etc.) retards the development of spoilage bacteria.
There is different ways of smoking. Which woods do you smoke? Smoke cold or hot? Which salt you use to lay the meat in before?
Its hard to answer this question. There is healthy smoked food. If its done in a good way.
Just saw Alton Brown on Good Eats on Food Network making smoked salmon. Ok maybe not the best resource but they seem to do their homework and they said you can get more carcinogens from grilling methods than smoking methods.
Until the invention of the domestic oven - not so long ago really - all meat would have been cooked over a fire of some sort - and so been smoked to some extent. I don't know when humans began to cook their food, but it must be over a hundred thousand years? So plenty of time for us to die out if wasn't a healthy thing to do...
I think if there is a problem with commercial smoked meats, it will be the salt, chemicals and not grass reared.
I personally wouldn't put too much stock in dietary studies performed in a modernized society, with all its chemicals and industrial methods. There are way too many confounding factors that usually aren't accounted for. (I would be interested to see a study done on a non-industrialized people group, though.)
Even if it can be shown that there are so-called carcinogens in smoked meat (or other foods for that matter), it tells you almost nothing in isolation. Having the context of a wholistic lifestyle is the important thing. However, setting up that context could be very difficult.
My personal view regarding smoked food is that whatever substances that cause cancer in high concentrations applied to a lab rat, probably won't do you much harm if your diet as a whole is healthy. I.e., healthy meat from healthy non-diseased animals, which lived a life as free from human intervention as possible; and fresh veggies with minimal man-made chemicals.
Here's an analogy to put things in perspective. CW says you should wear sunscreen and cover yourself up because the UV rays will damage your skin and cause skin cancer. Well, in a certain (ignorant) way they're right. In the context of a malnourished body, skin cancer may indeed be very likely. But given that you are well-nourished, your body can heal itself (see http://www.marksdailyapple.com/8-natural-ways-to-prevent-a-sunburn-and-sunscreens-not-one-of-them/, including some of the comments that validate the post). The curious thing is that CW has also started to realize that we need some sun to synthesize vitamin D. Are we having fun yet, CW-ers?
At the end of the day, the stress from over-thinking your food could be worse than the alleged toxins.