Six Ways To Healthier Grilled Meat

Leslie Beck, RD See Bio

Copyright © Leslie Beck, 2016.

Leslie Beck, Registered Dietitian, is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail, and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.com

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It’s the season to fire up the grill and enjoy the flavour of barbecued foods. But depending on what you throw on the grill – and how often – you might be jeopardizing your health.  Research suggests that eating too much grilled meat can increase the risk of certain cancers.

The problem is that cooking meat at high temperatures when grilling, broiling and frying creates chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which scientists speculate increase cancer risk.

PAHs damage DNA and cause cancer in animals.  In people, high intakes of barbecued meats are linked to a greater risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

PAHs are created when fat and juices from meat drip onto hot coals or stones causing flames; they’re deposited back onto meat by smoke and flare-ups. The higher the heat and the longer the cooking time, the more PAHs are generated.

There’s another chemical that forms during high heat cooking: heterocyclic amines or HCAs.  They’ve also been shown to cause changes to DNA that could lead to cancer.  Evidence suggests high intakes of HCAs increase the risk of colorectal adenomas, benign polyps that can develop into cancer.

How much PAHs and HCAs end up in meat depends on how long you cook it, the grill temperature, and how it’s prepared. Practice the following tips to minimize their formation.

Marinate first. Certain ingredients in a marinade – wine, tea, vinegar, citrus juice, vegetable oil and fresh herbs – can help prevent carcinogen formation. A marinade also acts as a barrier, keeping flames from touching meat and poultry.

Marinating meat in beer has been shown to cut PAH formation in half.  Its beneficial effect is attributed to a particular flavonoid (phytochemical) in hops, called xanthohumol. Ale beers have a higher antioxidant capacity than lager beers (e.g. lagers, Pilsners). That means better choices for marinating your steak include stouts, porters, dark ales, cream ales, IPAs (India Pale Ale) and pale ales.

Keep portions small. To cut time on the grill, use smaller cuts of meat. Instead of a whole steak, grill kebabs since they cook more quickly. For meats that require longer cooking times, partially cook in the microwave, drain away the juices, and then finish on the barbecue.

Lower the temperature. Turn the gas down or wait for the charcoal to become low-burning embers before grilling meat. (Oven roasting and baking are done at lower temperatures so fewer chemicals are likely to form.)

Flip often. Continuously turning meat over can substantially reduce HCA formation.  So can flipping burgers every minute versus only once after five minutes of cooking. To minimize juice drippings, use tongs or a spatula to turn foods rather than piercing meat with a fork.

Grill fish and shellfish.  Most types have less fat than meat and take a shorter time to cook. Seafood also produces fewer HCAs when cooked.

Add fruit and vegetables. Eating plenty of flavonoid-rich foods – berries, cherries, red grapes, apples, citrus fruit, broccoli, kale, onions – may help offset the harmful effect of PAHs and HCAs.  Research has also shown that adding one cup of mashed cherries to a pound of ground meat suppressed carcinogen formation in burgers by nearly 80 percent.


Copyright © Leslie Beck, 2016.

Leslie Beck, Registered Dietitian, is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail, and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.com

 

 

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