Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read.


06 Nov 2020

Where there's smoke...

Posted by 2142 2142 on Friday, November 06, 2020

I love the flavour of smoked foods, whether it be salmon, trout, cheese or chicken. And the man of my house has just taken ownership of a bespoke reverse (or offset) smoker built by his mate during downtime at his metal fabrication workshop. He’s excited about all the things he can cook and smoke in it. A reverse smoker can be used as a wood fired oven and/or smoker by adjusting the chimney, which provides many options for cooking style. We’ve tried chicken, beef and potatoes but I’m currently planning wood-fired pizza.  In addition, I was recently gifted a piece of smoked of pork by my friend of Croatian background whose father had smoked it himself in his backyard in a DIY traditional wood smoker. All good. However, I’m troubled by the idea that smoking may not be a healthy way to cook, with all those chemicals and all. We know breathing smoke and cigarette smoking can kill, but what about eating smoked foods?

There are several issues. Firstly, any woman who has ever been pregnant knows smoked salmon is off limits due to the risk of listeria being present. Listeria is a bacteria that causes illness that can harm an unborn baby. This is because the smoking process is not the same as cooking which does kill listeria. The temperatures don’t get high enough in the smoking process. Okay, so there’s the food safety aspect, but what about smoked foods that have been cooked thoroghly. Do any of the chemicals in the smoke present a risk?

The answer is yes, unfortunately. In the scientific literature, smoking foods is a way of contaminating it with carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and others. Oh dear! In addition, there have been associations found between populations that consume smoked foods regularly and the risk of cancers of the intestinal tract. What about home-smoking compared to industrial-style smoking during commercial food processing? The news isn’t great with one study finding very little difference in the content of risky chemicals between commercial and home-smoked foods. In addition, commercially produced foods have to comply with safety limits whereas home smoking is a free-for-all.

What are we to make of this? To my mind this means we have to limit our consumption of smoked foods and ensure we’re boosting our defenses by consuming lots of fresh and minimally processed plant foods with natural cancer-fighting activity such as vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. As well as making smoked food occasional, we also need to limit the portion size in order to allow our bodies to deal effectively with the chemical incursion. This means a slice of smoked salmon in a wholemeal sandwich or some smoked chicken in a salad might be a better option than a hunk of beef brisket American BBQ style. But we knew that already!

This pic is an offset smoker.