Grilled Meat, High-Heat Cooking Raise Risk Of High Blood Pressure

Regularly consuming well-done meat could pose a threat to your blood pressure, according to a new study. Researchers from Harvard suggested eating meat cooked using high-temperature methods such as grilling, broiling, barbecuing, and roasting could lead to a 17 percent increased risk of high blood pressure.

The study followed and examined more than 100,000 adults in the United States, none of whom had high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start. Over the following period of 12 to 16 years, 37,123 participants developed high blood pressure. Lead researcher Gang Liu and his colleagues then identified a possible link between cooking methods and the risk of high blood pressure.

The risk was 17 percent higher in people who grilled, broiled, or roasted their meat more than 15 times a month compared to people who used such methods less than 4 times a month. The likelihood of developing hypertension was also 15 percent higher for those who consumed well-done meats compared to those preferred rarer ones.

“Our findings imply that avoiding [these] cooking methods, including grilling, barbecuing and broiling, may help reduce hypertension risk among individuals who consume red meat, chicken or fish regularly,” said Liu, who is a research fellow in the nutrition department of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In animal studies, cooking food at such high temperatures has induced oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Liu highlighted these pathways as a potential cause for the elevated risk of high blood pressure. Lack of exercise, obesity and poor diet are regarded as the main causes of hypertension. On a global scale, nearly 7.5 million deaths are caused by the condition, which has also been associated with stroke.

The study had a few limitations and was not considered definitive since cause and effect were not proven. Questionnaires did not include certain types of meat and cooking methods. Also, since participants were mostly Caucasian, the findings cannot be applied to other groups yet. Previously, studies have linked grilled meat with health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. One study from 2014 also suggested chemical compounds produced in barbeque grills could cause cancer. 

Researchers have suggested reducing the frequency of consuming grilled meat can improve health. Additionally, stewing, poaching, or steaming meat and vegetables were recommended alternatives to grilling.

"For the average American, though, I think if you're grilling a few times a week, that should be okay as long as you're being cognizant of the rest of your diet and you're avoiding the really, really high temperatures for prolonged periods of time," said Dr. Haitham Ahmed, director of cardiac rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic.

The preliminary research, yet to be published, was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It was presented March 21 at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Lifestyle conference in New Orleans.