26 Apr

How Healthy Is Your Braai?



“there are ways to enjoy a healthier meal around the fire”

Most South Africans don’t need much of an excuse to light a fire. But when last did you consider what your Saturday-night braai could be doing to your health?

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) made many of us choke on our hot-dog rolls when they declared processed meats a Group 1 carcinogen – i.e. a cancer-causing agent in the same category as tobacco and asbestos.

The Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CANSA) has also been telling us for years that cooking meat at high temperatures (e.g. over an open flame) produces chemicals that aren’t present in uncooked meat, and that some of these chemicals may increase our cancer risk.

Many studies have also found that both unprocessed and processed red meat can up our cholesterol levels, thus contributing to heart disease. And, there’s a link between eating red meat and certain types of cancer.

When you consider all of the above, the average South African braai doesn’t seem like a healthy way to eat. Not only do many of us enjoy braaiing red meat like boerewors, steak and lamb chops, but we also like to kick off an evening around the fire with biltong – a type of processed meat.

Tips for a healthier braai

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom for the braai enthusiasts among us. According to the experts, there are ways to enjoy a healthier meal around the fire.

CANSA, along with SA’s Food Advisory Consumer Service (FACS), share the following tips:

  • Braai more fish, pork and chicken and less red meat.
  • Line your braai grid with foil and poke small holes in it so that the fat from the meat can still drip off, but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is lower. The smoke carries some of the cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Braai with less intense heat.
  • Add lots of antioxidant-rich fruit, vegetables and whole grains to your meal.

Also, limit the number of processed meats you eat. Substitute products like ham, salami, biltong, bacon, polony and viennas with fresh fish, seafood, pork or chicken.

Good to know

FACS makes the important point that cancer is a multi-complex problem that cannot be solved or blamed on a specific food or food group. If you’re worried about cancer, talk to your doctor about getting the appropriate screening tests done.

Remember that many medical aid schemes in South Africa will cover your doctor’s visits and tests. But even if you’re just on a hospital plan and not a comprehensive medical aid plan, saving and going for regular check-ups is important. Early detection is key.


By CARINE VISAGIE  (for Genesis Medical Scheme)


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