it’s almost summer and it’s time to get outside and grill. A summer BBQ is one of the iconic outdoor summer activities and often a good chance to get together with friends and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Sure, your annual Memorial Day burger and braut bonanza can pack on pounds and become bad for your health, even if you eat the nitrate-free versions. But the health of your summer grill has just as much to do with what you’re cooking, as it does with how you cook it. Because how you grill can either decrease or increase the carcinogens you’re downing by the spork-full.
Here are some tips how to avoid carcinogens when grilling.
Let The Flames Begin!
Hint: Do NOT use conventional, store-bought marinades. They can triple the amount of carcinogens that form on your grilled meat!
If you’re going to fire up the barbie this summer, you need to make healthy grilling a priority. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques that not only maximize the health of your grilled foods, but also the flavor!
The Problem You Must Overcome
Any meat, if grilled at very high temperatures, will naturally produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs, also found in cigarette smoke) from a reaction between two naturally-occurring compounds found in any meat: the amino acid creatine, and sugar. But it’s not just the char that you should avoid, because research has shown that well-done meat has 3.5 times more HCA than medium-rare meat. Are some meats better or worse than others? Absolutely. Sadly, fried bacon showed the highest concentration, followed by pork, beef, and then chicken. (Be sure to avoid the worst beef.)
What’s Not a Problem
Grilled veggies do not have creatine, and so do not form HCAs at all. So you can feel free to flame ‘em up and singe away. By the way, a secondary carcinogen can come from the fat drippings that hit the coals, and produce smoke. This smoke sticks to your grilled foods as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) … another potent carcinogen. Veggies don’t produce this reaction either.
A Delicious Solution
The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that a teriyaki marinade reduced HCAs by 67 percent. A turmeric-garlic sauce reduced them by 50 percent! The key here is to use a thin, vinegar-based sauce—and leave out the sugar. Warning: When they tested thick, concentrated, commercial barbecue sauces (with added sugars), it actually tripled the number of HCAs!
Certain herbs and spices also protect your meats. The Hawaiian research group also showed HCA reduction with marinades containing members of the mint family such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, and thyme. Most of these herbs are rich in three compounds—carnosic acid, carnosol, and rosmarinic acid—that are all potent antioxidants.
The Bottom Line?
Even briefly marinating foods is effective in reducing the amount of carcinogens—in some cases by as much as 92 to 99 percent. As a rule, use about one-half cup of marinade for every pound of food, although large pieces may need more to cover the food’s surface adequately. The amount of marinating time is up to you because it only takes a few minutes to get the full cancer-preventing effect. Longer times will just add more flavor— good health has never been so tasty!
Don’t set your barbecue on “blow torch.” Start on a medium-high temp, and flip the meat often enough so that you don’t get charring. Another great technique, in case you have multiple burners within your grill, is to grill up each side real quick, and then turn off the burner that lies directly under the meat while keeping the other burners on. That basically transitions your grill into an oven.
During the grilling process, you can prevent the PAH carcinogens by:
• Trimming excess fat
• Covering the grill with punctured aluminum foil to prevent drips from hitting the hot coals
• Keeping a squirt bottle around to control flare-ups So get outside and grill. With just a few rules to remember, you can add to the flavor and your health at the same time!