Summer is officially here, and for many of us, this means firing up the grill. But, along with that delicious smoky flavor that you get with grilled food; there are some lurking dangers to be aware of. Did you know that meats and starchy vegetables cooked at high temperatures can cause the formation of potentially cancer-promoting substances?
Meats, in particular, form some nasty baddies when cooked at high temperatures on the grill. Here are the big three:
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – Formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish; HCAs are a reaction between creatinine amino acids and glucose. Higher grill temperatures, coupled with longer cooking times will increase HCA production.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – PAHs form when meat juices drip and flame hits meat.
N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – NOCs form in the stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives, found in processed meats such as, sausages and hot dogs. Tip: Purchase nitrate and nitrite free meats.
Want to minimize your carcinogen exposure?
Eat beans. Add beans to the menu. Beans contain phytates—toxin absorbers—that help sop up some of the carcinogens from the meat, reducing its toxicity.
Don’t forget the onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables. Research suggests that these may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs. Two grill-friendly, cruciferous vegetables are broccoli and cauliflower.
Go low and slow. Try cooking meats over lower temperatures. Yes, this means more time on the grill. But, because meats cooked this way are typically put on indirect heat—not directly over the flame—carcinogen formation is reduced somewhat. Google “how to barbecue low and slow” for information.
What about starchy vegetables?
There’s nothing like potatoes cooked on the grill. But, starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other tubers, cooked at high temperatures form acrylamide—a potent carcinogen. Tip: When grilling starchy vegetables, soak or marinate them first in a water-vinegar mix. This boosts their water content, which will minimize the production of acrylamide. Starchy or not, when grilling any vegetable, avoid eating the blackened portions; This is where acrylamide lurks.
To your good health!