Hot weather and outdoor living means firing up the outdoor grill in many homes. Yet, before you throw that burger or steak on the barbecue, be aware research has shown that turning up the heat on meat can cause potentially cancer-causing substances to form.
Meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, arachidonic acid and heme iron. When grilled or even cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds are also formed.
Formed in meats cooked at high temperatures
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish as a reaction between creatinine amino acids and glucose. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increases HCA production
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – formed from flames and smoke; when meat juices drip and flame hits meat
- N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – formed in the stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives, found in processed meats
To minimize these harms, limit your portions consistent with a Nutritarian diet. Use only small amounts of meat mixed in with a bean burger and some mushrooms and onion. The phytates in the beans sop up the hydroxyl radicals and excess iron from the meat, reducing its toxicity. Also, anti-cancer foods like onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs.
Processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages, should be completely avoided. NOCs are potent carcinogens. There is convincing evidence that processed meats (and red meats) are a cause of colorectal cancers, and high intake of processed meat is also associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Fortunately, you don’t have to throw away your grill. Marinated vegetables, mushroom and bean burgers are safe and delicious choices. For those who choose to grill meat, do it with caution and only do it occasionally.
The keys to healthy grilling
Here are five ways to enjoy foods on the grill while reducing your exposure to harmful substances:
- Vegetables are especially delicious when grilled. All kinds of vegetables can be grilled and with the warm weather there is a wonderful variety. So make veggies your main dish.Fill a grilling basket with your favorite sliced vegetables, or make vegetable skewers. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and summer squash all combine well, but get creative with your top picks or seasonal harvests. Toss with a little water, balsamic vinegar, and some MatoZest or fresh or dried herbs such as basil, oregano or rosemary for a robust and nutritious dish.
- Try blending spices with walnuts and a bit of your favorite vinegar and brush it on the veggies frequently while on the grill. When grilling any starchy vegetables soak or marinate them first in a water-vinegar mix to add to their water content to minimize the production of acrylamide, which is a cooking-related carcinogen formed when starches are cooked at high temperatures.13 Avoid eating the blackened portions of grilled vegetables.
- Make your own nutritious veggie burgers. Redefine the meat burger with bean or veggie burgers! Store-bought burgers often have added salt and concentrated soy protein. Try this recipe for Sunny Bean Burgers.
- Portabella mushrooms are a delicious and satisfying alternative to burgers. Try marinating in your favorite vinegar, Serve on a toasted whole grain pita with sliced tomato, raw onion and a pesto dressing made from basil, avocado and pine nuts.
- Grill corn on the cob in the husk or make party corn cobs by husking, spraying lightly with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil and water, and sprinkling with your favorite herbs. Place on the grill for 6-10 minutes, rotating frequently to minimize browning.
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