How Suya May Give You Cancer and How You Can Prevent It

At almost every junction in this part of the world, you’ll find a suya joint. As a matter of fact, in many places, it is only sold at night. Selling it in the day seems like a deviation from the normal. I read a saying one time that is not far from the truth: whatever you put in your mouth either fights disease or encourages it.

Cooking over an open flame creates chemicals that change DNA

This includes suya, it is usually prepared over open flames after being spiced with those spices which I believe still remain a secret to me this day. Just joking, we know how these spices are made but we still buy it from them.

The problem with suya is not necessarily the meat, it is the method of preparation like I mentioned earlier, it is prepared over open flame and this poses a problem. How?

Why is this a problem?

The risk is higher when there are charcoal marks on the meat

When you cook meat, poultry and even fish over a fire or very high temperatures, amino acids from the muscle meat reacts with the heat to form what we call Heterocyclic amines or HCAs. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over open fire drip onto the fire, causing smoke. We have seen it happen. The smoke contains these polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Here is the problem: These chemicals have been shown to cause changes in the DNA of cells. These changes make it easier for a person to develop cancer.

The risk of getting cancer is higher if the meat is thoroughly cooked and if there are black charcoal marks on the meat itself. Some cancers such as colon cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic and even breast cancers have been linked to this.

These compounds (HCAs and PCAs) damage DNA, but only after certain enzymes have activated them. These enzymes and their activity vary from one person to the other hence different risks in developing cancer, especially if there is a family history of cancer.


How can I reduce my risk?

Here are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting cancer from meat.

  • Stop cooking meat at over open fires if you can or completely avoid smoked or grilled meat or fish.
  • Cook the meat at lower temperature by allowing the charcoal to burn down to just the embers before using it
  • Use a microwave for cooking meat before exposing it to fire; this reduces the time spent over the flame.
  • Continuously turn meat when heating over fire.
  • Remove burnt portions of meat before eating.
  • Marinate first! Marinating chicken before cooking in vinegar, Olive oil or lemon juices have been shown to reduce HCAs by as much as 99%.
  • Shield the meat! Use foil, this reduces the smoke that gets to the meat, however there are risks of cooking with foil.
  • After grilling, clean thoroughly to get rid of charred meat that may be stuck to the surface.
  • Grill smaller portions, they spend less time on the fire.
  • Eat smaller portions of grilled meat.


Some people cannot completely avoid smoked or grilled food, but knowing this can reduce the risk greatly of developing cancer, if you follow the tips in this article. If you have a strong family history for cancer, it is best to avoid.

7 responses

  1. Doc, what about asun (goat meat)? The goat is usually exposed to fire before it is cut and later used to make asun. And also what about the smoked fish we buy in the market? Do these carry the same risk as suya? Pls reply.

  2. Nice post .. I have a question
    I assume the charcoal is a problem..
    Is it only meats the coal affects or does it affect other roasted/grilled things like CORN especially

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