By Kim Robson:
We’re getting into heat wave season, and recently I have discovered the joys of outdoor grilling. To be able to cook without heating up the house any further is a godsend. Plus, the food smells and tastes incredible. And it’s SO easy if you just remember a few simple tips.
The downside of cooking over a high heat open flame is that it can produce chemicals that are potentially harmful:
- HCAs– Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are mutagenic, meaning they can alter your DNA. Possible increased risk of cancer. You can avoid HCAs by cooking over a lower heat.
- AGEs– Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) already occur naturally in our bodies and in food, but cooking over high heat increases them. The highest increases were found in fatty meats. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics(JAND) published a study that shows that dry high heat increases AGEs in food by 10-100 times.
- PAHs– Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are created when fuel (wood, coal, gas) isn’t fully combusted or when the fat from meat drips into the fire. The PAH-rich smoke then envelops the food, and you also can inhale it while standing by the grill. PAHs have been linked to gastro-intestinal and lung cancer, and leukemia.
Tips for Healthier Grilling:
Ditch the Charcoal
Gas grilling is far healthier than using charcoal. Gas does not create as many PAHs as charcoal, which can create up to four times more carcinogens than gas. Gas grills also have variable heat controls, so you can avoid HCAs by cooking over lower heat.
FYI, lump charcoal is less harmful than charcoal briquettes because of the additional chemicals added to briquettes to help them burn more evenly. So, if you can’t give up the singular aroma of cooking with charcoal, choose lump charcoal. And don’t use lighter fluid; get a charcoal chimneyinstead.
Go Low and Slow
Plan on some extra time for grilling so you can reduce many of the risks by cooking slowly over a low heat. HCAs begin forming at 325 degrees, so aim for a lower temperature to avoid HCAs in grilled food. According to another JAND study, acidic sauces (like tomato-based barbecue sauce) and low, moist heat stop the creation of AGEs.
Marinades and Rubs
Marinating or dry-rubbing meat before cooking actually reduces dangerous chemicals, not to mention making it taste incredible. How? Science!
- According to a 2008 study, marinating meat in beer or wine reduces carcinogens by 40 percent.
- Herbs and spices also reduce harmful compounds in grilled food.
- A study published in the Journal of Food Scienceshows that a marinade of garlic, thyme and sage reduced carcinogens by 88 percent.
- A 2010 Journal of Food Sciencestudy found that rosemary extract reduced carcinogens by 90 percent.
If you really want to grill over a high heat, always marinate (or dry rub) your meat beforehand. Try to use culinary herbs with medicinal properties, like garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage. It certainly helps that they taste amazing. Also, cut away any outer blackened or charred bits and eat only the inside.
Counterbalance with Healthy Side Dishes
Instead of the usual macaroni salad, potato salad and potato chips, serve healthy side dishes like cole slaw, fruit salad, caprese salad or three-bean salad. They can help counterbalance the toxic compounds with antioxidants that fight oxidative stress and free radicals in the body.
Vegetables and fruits cook up quickly and beautifully on a grill. Consider corn on the cob, marinated eggplant or zucchini, portobello mushrooms, sliced bell peppers, tomato halves, peach halves or pineapple slices.
Avoid high temperatures by precooking meats in an oven, slow cooker or pressure cooker. Then use the grill for just a few minutes to get those attractive grill marks and barbecue flavor.
It doesn’t have to be all about hot dogs, burgers and steaks. Fish and chicken contain lower levels of the amino acids that help form HCAs. Fish and seafood are even better because they cook quickly, and are less affected by high heat.
A Few Healthy Grilling Recipes: