That juicy rack of barbecued spare ribs may be calling your name, but you may want to pass on grilled meats—at least until after your due date.
What could possibly be wrong with something that tastes so right? According to Polish researchers, babies born to moms who regularly consume barbecue during pregnancy may end up with lower birth weights than those whose moms skip the grill in favor of other cooking methods.
Published in the journal Nutrition, the study looked at the prenatal diets of 432 pregnant women and how much their babies weighed at birth. The findings were surprising: as a group, newborns of women who consumed any barbecued meat in the third pregnancy trimester weighed significantly less than other newborns. On average, babies of barbecue-eating moms weighed approximately 7 ounces—or almost half a pound—less than other babies in the study.
Firing up the grill may not be the best choice for moms, researchers believe, because cooking food at high temperatures produces large amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are classified as “probably carcinogenic” to humans, the Syracuse Times-Standard reports. When the food is in direct contact with flame, even more PAHs are generated due to the smoke and changes in the fat from high temperatures. While it is not clear exactly how PAHs lead to lower birth weights, researchers found that women who ate barbecue during pregnancy tended to have higher levels of PAH than other moms.
This news doesn’t necessarily need to put a damper on your next picnic. Researchers acknowledge the study was weakened by the fact that relatively few of the women studied actually ate barbecued food during pregnancy—112 women out of the 432 ate it in the second trimester, and 48 ate it in the third trimester. These 48 women could have had some other trait in common that the study didn’t detect.
Still, if you do decide to cut back on barbecue for now, there are still plenty of tasty backyard favorites that taste great—and are actually good for your pregnancy. Instead of a grilling your chicken, why not try it slow-roasted with lots of herbs for flavor, or coat chicken with whole-grain bread crumbs before baking for some extra crunch? Serve with barbecue sauce and add a few sides of cole slaw and potato salad, and your taste buds may never know the difference!