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Friday, March 03, 2017


Written by: Sola Ogundipe

REGULAR consumers of grilled and barbequed beef and chicken popularly called suya, have been advised to always eat the delicacy with generous portions of the slices of onions, cabbage, tomatoes and other vegetables usually served along with the meat.

Giving the advise in Lagos, a Professor of Nutrition and Director of Academic Planning at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, said research has shown that while there is a strong link between consumption of suya and increased risk of cancer, consumption of suya garnished with onions and other vegetables, has a strong cancer-lowering effect.

Cancer risk increasing!

Onimawo, who is Immediate past President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, and Dean, College of Food Processing & Storage Technology ,Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, recalled a warning by the World Health Organisation, WHO, that except there is deliberate effort to imbibe healthier dietary and lifestyle habits over the next 10 years, cancer and other Non-Communicable Diseases, NCDs, will increase by more than 27 percent in developing countries like Nigeria, compared to 17 percent in the developed world.

Speaking during the nutrition workshop organised by Coca-Cola Nigeria for health writers, the nutrition expert remarked that dietary habits play a major role in the outcome of our health and one of this is the issue of cancer.

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer: “Take breast cancer. Its incidence used to be very low among our women in those days and it was even tagged oyinbo (White man) disease because it was very rare in Nigeria or in Africa for that matter. “But today, this is no longer the case. Breast cancer is everywhere. It is even killing people in the village. When we carried out studies to try to look at the aetiology of the disease, to find out where it all started, what we discovered was that we could trace the origin to suya consumption.

Suya preparation: “During preparation of suya, the meat is cooked over an open fire, and oils from the meat undergo complex chemical reactions that produce toxins that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in nature.

Meat cooked over open flame often causes the formation of toxic compounds known as Heterocyclic Amines, HCAs, which are carcinogenic compounds. 

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame.

The more well-done a meat is cooked, the higher concentration of carcinogenic HCA’s can form. Explaining that cancer is due to oxidative processes in the body, He said onions are powerful antioxidants that effectively stop the oxidative process triggered by consumption of suya from taking place.

Further, Onimawo said one of the outcomes of the findings was that women who consume suya, are more prone to cancer (breast cancer) than men because they (women) tend to consume just the suya and ignore the vegetables.

Men eat onions, women eat suya: “This is practically proven.

Many young men, take girls out and buy suya to entertain them. Normally, apart from the spices sprinkled on the meat, the suya is served with slices of onions, cabbage and tomatoes in some cases. “The onion and other vegetables are actually added to act as an antidote to the effect of the oil from the suya. 

Onions neutralise the oxidative effect of the chemicals in the oil and help prevent cancer, but because the young man wants to impress the girl, he will be eating the onions, while the girl eats the suya. At the end of the day, he is preventing cancer, unknowingly, while the girl is eating the carcinogenic substances.

“Much of this information needs to be made more available. I’m not saying suya is bad, on the contrary, it is a great delicacy, but beneficial only when eaten in moderation and along with the onion and cabbage, he stated.”

More concerns A number of studies support the use of local spices such as ginger, clove, red pepper, black pepper, onion, thyme, oregano and garlic in a meat marinade before grilling also drastically reduce any carcinogens that normally would form on grilled meat.

The suya sauce, a.k.a. Yaji, comprising most of these spices is believed to help ameliorate possible negative effects of the roasted red meat.  However, findings link excessive consumption to possible kidney damage. When meat is cooked in a water base as opposed to grilling, HCAs are eliminated. Meat cooked in a soup or pot will not have carcinogenic HCAs and is a healthier way to cook meat.

1. Vanguard newspaper. 2014. Nutritionist warns don’t eat Suya without Onion and Cabbage. Retrieved 2nd May 2017.

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