The first thing to note is that the World Health Organization (WHO) did not isolate suya or kilishi as a causal agent for cancer; it categorized them as processed meat. It is not that the suya itself generates cancer-causing agents but the process of cooking it exposes the meat to carcinogenic substances which we then consume as we eat.
When making suya, the meat is often cooked in direct contact with open flames (high heat) and this process can convert proteins into the meat to a substance called heterocyclic amines (HCA).
Also, as fat from the meat burns and drips into the fire, it causes smoke, which rises and settles on the meat. The smoke contains a compound (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons-PAH). Both (HCA & PAH). Both of these compounds cause cancer.
The acceptable part of Nigerians refusal to give up suya is possibly the fact that suya-eating is not really a daily affair for most. The World Health Organization has put the consumption limit for cancer risk at 50g per day.
However, one truth I was taught while at Hopkins is the “all or none” rule for exposure to cancer-causing agents. If you have been exposed, well you have been exposed.
Suya is not the only culprit in the processed meats saga. Sausages, Chicken nuggets, bacon, steak, etc. are also guilty.
Written By: Dr. Kharis