Grilled foods: dangerous for health?
It’s that time of year again: longer days, warmer evenings, and grilling season! You might want to rethink your meal plan just this year. What you grill and how you grill it are two features of the traditional American barbeque that can contribute to cancer risk. Cancer-causing substances termed heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) occur when any type of meat, poultry, or fish is cooked at high temperatures, especially when well-done or charred. These compounds have the potential to harm DNA in ways that increase the risk of cancer.
HCAs may damage DNA and promote tumour development in cells of the colon, breast, prostate, and lymph systems, according to animal and laboratory research. At 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and hotter, proteins react to form HCAs. PAHs form when fat drips onto hot coals, creating smoke that settles on food.
Eating AGEs, advanced glycation end products, can promote oxidation and inflammation which elevates our risk of or worsening chronic health issues like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. AGEs may contribute to the ageing process. That sizzle and ‘sear’ that leaves the iconic grill marks on our meats, is a result of cooking over a high temperature and dry heat. These cooking conditions can form advanced glycation end products or AGEs.
For many people, the thought of grilling conjures images of sizzling steaks and chicken, not asparagus and mushroom caps. While meats can be a part of a healthy diet, they do not provide your body with that all-important health benefits of fibre which helps keep bowel movements, well, moving. If you are not balancing your meat intake out with some fruits, veggies, beans, or other fibre-rich foods, you are possibly setting yourself up for some very unpleasant bathroom time.
So, how do we grill safely?
Make a lean effort.
PAHs are produced when fat comes into contact with an open flame. Instead of fatty burgers or brats, try grass-fed beef, chicken, or fish on the barbecue. However, stay away from tilapia. It’s nearly devoid of heart-healthy fats.Fruits and vegetables are the healthiest things to grill.
Choose fruits and vegetables.
Muscle mutates and produces HCAs when cooked at high temperatures, whether it’s beef, pork, fish, or fowl. Those are the substances that we believe cause cancer. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, lack protein (muscle) and fat, which both become troublesome when exposed to high temperatures. Grilling veggies is thus a healthier method to enjoy your barbecue in terms of potential health hazards.
Wrap it up
If you’re cooking meat and veggies together, fat dripping from the meat can fall into the flames and coat your produce with cancer-causing chemicals. Foil-wrapping fruits and veggies can protect them from high heat and the harmful effects of grilled meats. You can also wrap meat in foil to prevent fat from dripping into the hot coals.
Watch the marinades
Sauces and marinades are often loaded with sugar. That can be especially problematic for people who are trying to follow a low-carb diet. Acidic rubs and marinades, on the other hand, may help break down some of the muscle in the meat and reduce the number of HCAs on your plate. If you’re looking for an alternative to marinades, rub heart-healthy olive oil over the food and season it with pepper, spices, and herbs.
It’s not uncommon for folks to put meat on the grill and let it sit for 10 minutes before flipping and repeating the process. Unfortunately, that method produces detrimental char marks. If you flip the meat more often, you can still achieve the desired temperature and avoid the black char lines. Do it that way and your grilled meal will be as healthy as the food itself, no matter which cooking method you choose.
One way to sidestep some of the danger, at least, is by switching to a gas grill. It’s much easier to control the temperature using propane, even if it doesn’t come with the same smoky flavour that charcoal provides.
Burgers should not be pressed down onto the grill grates, where juices can leak and flare.
Cooking meat over a medium flame (rather than a high flame) helps to prevent the production of HAAs while maintaining the internal cooking temperature.
Remove the meat from the marinade and shake off any excess before cooking. To promote even browning, pat dry with a paper towel.
Sugary glazes and sauces are easy to burn, so avoid them. If you choose to use them, baste the meat on the grill for the last few minutes.
The Final Word
Grilling meat is a simple and delicious method to get a meal on the table, but there are some criteria to follow in order to receive the most nutrition and reduce the risk of cancer.