Is Smoked Food Healthy?

A lot of people enjoy the smoky flavor of foods like bacon and barbecue. But is smoked food actually healthy?

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The Risks of Smoking Food

Smoking food is a popular way to add flavor, but it also comes with some risks. Smoked food can contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer. Smoked food can also contain high levels of salt, which can raise your blood pressure. If you’re going to smoke food, it’s important to be aware of the risks.


When fat and juices from meat drippings fall onto a fire, they create a smoke that contains chemicals known as carcinogens. These chemicals can stick to the surface of the food, where they are absorbed into the tissue.

In one study, scientists looked at the level of carcinogens in smoked meats and found that they contained high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are known to cause cancer in animals, and there is some evidence that they may also increase the risk of cancer in humans.

Another study looked at the level of a chemical called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in smoked meats. NDMA is another known carcinogen, and it has been shown to cause cancer in animals.

So, there is good evidence that smoking food increases the levels of potentially harmful chemicals in the final product. These chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, so it’s best to avoid smoked foods if possible.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of more than 100 different chemicals that form during the burning of coal, oil, gas, tobacco, garbage, or other materials. PAHs become part of the smoke that comes from grilling, barbecuing, and smoking meat.

When PAHs in smoke land on food, they can cause the food to become contaminated. People who eat foods that contain PAHs may be at increased risk for stomach cancer and other diseases.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued guidelines to help reduce the risk of food contamination from PAHs. The guidelines recommend that people:
-Choose leaner meats and trim fat before cooking
-Remove skin from poultry before cooking
-Avoid direct exposure of meat to flames or coals
-Use a drip pan under the grill to catch fat drippings that could cause flames
-Turn meat often so that it cooks evenly on all sides and does not spend too much time directly over the heat source
-Cook meat until it is well done

The Benefits of Smoking Food

Smoked foods have been around for centuries and were originally created as a way to preserve food. Smoking food can also add a unique flavor that you can’t get from other cooking methods. In recent years, people have started to question whether or not smoked food is healthy. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of smoking food.


A 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that smoking meat, fish, and poultry can create compounds that act as antioxidants in the body. These compounds, known as polyphenols, are thought to protect cells from damage.

The study authors noted that more research is needed to determine whether smoked foods provide enough of these compounds to have a significant effect on human health. However, they suggested that eating smoked foods in moderation might offer some protective benefits.

Other potential benefits of smoking food include:
-Preserving food: In the past, smoking was often used as a way to preserve foods for long periods of time. This is because smoke contains chemicals that can kill bacteria and other microbes.

-Adding flavor: Smoking can also add a unique flavor to food that can be different from other cooking methods.


One of the most common reasons people smoke food is for the flavor. Smoking can add a unique flavor to food that cannot be replicated using other cooking methods. The type of wood used to smoke the food will also contribute to the flavor, with different woods imparting different flavors. For example, hickory wood is commonly used for smoking meats and provides a classic smoky flavor, while applewood imparts a sweeter flavor.

The Bottom Line

From a nutritional standpoint, smoked food is generally not healthy. It is high in fat and salt, and the smoking process itself can create harmful chemicals in the food.

However, some people argue that the benefits of smoked food outweigh the risks. They believe that the smoking process can add flavor and improve the shelf life of food.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to eat smoked food is a personal one. If you are concerned about your health, you may want to limit your intake of smoked foods or avoid them altogether.

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