The warm summer days are almost over for us, with September waltzing off and October lurking just around the corner. But wait, let’s get together with friends for a barbecue and catch the dwindling warmth of the summer! Outdoor barbecue is fun and such a quintessential American pastime. The USA has been my home now for a while and I, too, love getting together with friends and family over a tasty meal of grilled meat. My mouth is salivating as I write this. Unfortunately, as you may know, grilling creates chemical compounds that are quite harmful to your health. In fact, grilling has been associated with certain types of cancers, such as breast, prostate, and pancreatic (one of the nastiest). But don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to give up grilling on coals and fire. I’m just going to teach you how to do it in a healthier way. So read on, my dears.
First, let me remind you what happens when you cook meats on high temperatures, like on fire, direct coals, or smoking hot air. When meat is exposed to high temperatures to the point of charring, pernicious chemical compounds form. These chemicals include heterocyclic amines (HCAs), advance glycation products (AGPs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs are found in especially high concentrations in those burned, blackened surface areas; these are the same cancer-causing HCAs found in cigarettes. AGPs, which are formed throughout the meat when it’s cooked at high temperatures, age you because they cause oxidative stress on the body. PAHs are transferred to the cooking meat from the excessive smoke that is produced when fat drips into the heat source. Like HCAs, PAHs are proven carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Unsurprisingly, several studies have found that people who preferred charred and well-done steaks had a greater cancer risk than people who preferred their steaks rarer. So let’s keep the production of all these nasty chemicals down.
Here are five ways to make your outdoor grilling experience healthier (or at least less unhealthy):
Cook on indirect heat.
Soak meat in acidic sauces.
Eat antioxidant-rich foods with grilled meat.
Cook as little as possible.
Choose quality meats.
So let’s talk about these five steps and why they will help protect your body.
1. Cook on indirect heat. Instead of placing your food on the grill directly over the heat source (wood, charcoal, or gas), place your food to the side of the heat source, putting a drip pan under your food, and close the lid of the grill. This prevents contact between the flame and the food, in particular during those inevitable flare-ups, so the food cooks comparably to the much healthier technique of oven roasting. Indirect-heat cooking is slower, but doesn’t create burned areas, doesn’t cause flare-ups, and because the fat drips onto the drip pan rather than the heat source, it reduces the amount of PAH-containing smoke.
2. Soak meat in acidic sauces. Soaking meat in an acidic sauce, like something with lemon, lime, or vinegar, significantly reduces the amount of HCAs and AGPs in grilled meat (by as much as 95%-97%). Furthermore, acidic sauces help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria on meat, tenderize the meat, and make it more readily digestible. Don’t buy those commercial sugar-containing BBQ sauces though, because they have been found to actually increase the amount of carcinogenic chemicals in grilled meat. Rather, make your own acidic sauce and add anti-cancer spices like turmeric or garlic to make it even healthier. Or, you can soak your meat in red wine or beer, which is a good alternative.
3. Eat antioxidant-rich foods with grilled meat. I told you that grilling might introduce age-promoting substances in your body. To neutralize that effect, add some summer foods that contain high amounts of antioxidants to your grilled meal. A food that comes immediately to mind is the berry. Courtesy of Mother Nature, berries are an amazing source of nutrients and antioxidants, and in the summer is it easy to find them fresh, such as at a fruit stand. Cook some fresh veggies on the same grill, too. Did you know that grilled veggies do not tend to form the same harmful chemicals as grilled meat? Also remember that spices are your friend. And don’t forget that glass of red wine – both for its antioxidants benefit and for the great sex afterwards! 🙂
4. Cook as little as possible. As I already mentioned, the more meat is grilled or barbecued, the more harmful chemicals are created. Furthermore, your body has a relatively harder time digesting over-grilled meat due to its chemical composition, so it stays in your intestinal tract longer than less-grilled meat. Undigested pieces of meat can remain in the crypts of your gut and become a source of toxicity. I want your gut to be healthy, not toxic. Remember Hippocrates’s words, “All Disease Begins In The Gut.” I agree with that, but that’s a topic for another article.
5. Choose quality meats. And last but by no means least, please make sure you obtain high quality grass-fed, all-natural, and preferably organic meat. Ideally, I would love for you to find a small reputable farm from which to buy meat. The quality of meat – literally, its composition – makes a huge difference. And by the way, you can worry much less about that warning to thoroughly cook meat to prevent food poisoning if you buy your meat from a reputable source. Personally, I worry more about the dangers of cancer-causing chemicals in overcooked grilled or barbecued meat than I do about food poisoning in less-cooked meat.
Outdoor grilling is fun, and I would never want you to give up something fun. But please keep my five tips in mind so you can enjoy both yummy grilled meals and continued good health!
So very truly yours,