It is a known fact that we often desire for various delicacies or foods that might have negative effects on our health as we are not perfect in making decisions. Certain foods we hunger for should be looked into and its effects made known to us before giving it a thoughtful decision and one of such foods is suya.
Having grown up in the western part of Nigeria, I have become quite familiar with the sight of the Hausa men selling suya at various junctions near our homes. This spicy skewered meat is often enjoyed as a delicacy in many parts of Nigeria and other countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, etc. They all partake in this delicious feast of meats and (sometimes vegetables) even if they are called by different names. It is often made from beef, chicken, ram and innards of these animals such as gizzard, kidney, and liver.
Suya is one delicacy that is part of our food culture and while it creates delight for so many, it is also a source of health disorders, particularly cancer. If only we look deep into the process of which suya is being made, we would discriminate the risks and dangers associated and probably reduce our consumption rate.
Dangers Associated with the Consumption of Suya
Have you ever been to a suya spot and observed the flies prancing all around? It is usually a sorry sight. The poor hygiene conditions and environment in which suya is made is one of the dangers that the consumption of suya brings, but this is minimal to other dangers that are inherent in the consumption of suya:
- Contamination by Chemical Carcinogens
Due to its mode of preparation which involves the burning of coals and other materials like rubber and plastic to heat up the meat at high temperatures over direct flame, there is a discharge of chemical carcinogens called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH). PAH are cancer – causing compounds that change one’s genetic material (DNA) and it has been linked to higher risks of health issues such as lung damage and cancer, particularly breast and pancreatic cancer. Also, according to an article on health.usnews.com, a high prenatal exposure to PAH is associated with lower IQ and childhood asthma.
The longer the suya stays on the direct flames and the more fat it contains, the more PAH is formed. The PAH is absorbed into the meat so as you enjoy them, you just might be causing some harm to your body.
Also, the more charred (black crust formation on meat) suya is, the more the meat contains Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). HCAs and cancers are like best of friends. The more you eat these suya prepared this way, the more you increase cellular stress and aging of your body.
- Risk of Contacting Zoonotic Diseases
These are diseases that can easily be passed between animals and humans. It is a known fact that suya meats are undercooked generally and, in some cases, have traces of some blood in them. In such scenarios, there could be chances of contacting certain zoonotic diseases from the consumption of suya. For example, during the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, there were warnings to stay away from certain meats. There was also a stern warning to always cook our meats very well before we eat them. Cooking meat very well cannot really be said of Suya.
Some zoonotic diseases can be passed from the host animal to human directly while others can be passed from consuming their products such as meat and milk. A well-known example is the beef tapeworm – a zoonotic tapeworm. Like it was mentioned above, humans majorly get infected by consuming undercooked beef. The infection may occur without any noticeable or attendant symptoms. Chronic infection often results in weight loss, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, constipation, chronic indigestion, and loss of appetite. This may cause intestinal obstruction in humans and can only be alleviated by surgery. Other types of diseases that can be passed from animals to humans include Leptospirosis, Brucellosis, Bubonic plague, Salmonellosis, etc.
Suya can be very delicious and make a good delicacy if well cooked and appropriate types of woods are used for smoking. For example, it is advised to cook/heat the Suya meat to a safe internal temperature around 800C or more. Avoid adding plastics or fuels such as kerosene to the fire to make it burn better.
- Risk of Consuming Unknown Animal Product
Due to the cost of certain animal products, most suya sellers can substitute a certain meat for another. For example, beef could be substituted for other products such as cat meat, rat meat, and snake meat or probably dog meat. The consumers of suya should be careful as most of them detest or have a sensitivity to some of these meat types but, unknowingly, end up consuming them making them prone to certain diseases.
How to make Suya safer for your consumption
- Ensure a Clean environment and safe food materials
Ensuring that the environment, equipment used and hygiene of the work area is neat and tidy is of high priority. If you are making it yourself, you have more control over the quality, cleanliness, and processing of the meats. There are a lot of studies spanning over 10 years looking at microbial and general safety of suya from different parts of Nigeria and the conclusion is usually that they discovered lots of micro-organisms at a level higher than recommended and that can be harmful to the body.
- Avoid fat/oil drippings when grilling
You can inform the suya seller not to add fat/oil while grilling. Do not let drippings get into the burning charcoal or hot griddle. This alone can reduce PAH formation by up to 80% according to some studies.
- Select Lean Meat for your Suya and pre-cook before Grilling
The meat used should not have fatty parts on them. If meat is precooked for grilling, it reduces the time on the fire and this means less PAH, AGEs and HCAs
- Avoid direct flame contact on Meats
You can use foil wrappers as a protective barrier separating meat from the direct flame/smoke. Of course, this might impact the flavor but it is better to be safe. It is, however, best to do this yourself if you can.
- Make Use of Natural Spices/Herbs in Marinade
Use herbs such as thyme, rosemary, ginger, etc. in your marinades. These contain a lot of antioxidants that protect your body. Also, they significantly reduce the creation of some of these carcinogens. Most of the time, the suya seller uses the Yaji which is a combination of some spices. You can decide to use the herbs along with your Yaji if you are making it by yourself.
- Educate Your Suya Seller about Fruits and Vegetables
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables daily because they contain antioxidants which protect your body from damage by free radicals and educate your suya seller about the addition of various vegetables with the aim of increasing the nutritional value.
In a Nutshell, let your health take first place before enjoying the pleasures that suya can bring. Suya should be eaten in moderation and those times you choose to eat it, you can decide to make them safer for you. It is very vital to eat better and live better one day at a time.