Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Make Your BBQ Healthy

This time of year everyone is excited to pull out the grill and get the Barbeque started.  Personally, I love the taste of barbeque.  Unfortunately, grilling out regularly is a dangerous habit that radically increases one's risk of heart disease and cancer.

There are 3 major cancer causing molecules that are present when meat gets heated at a high temperature.  One is caused by the smoke that is released when fat drips from meat or fish onto a heat source. This potent carcinogen is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH's for short.  The second set of molecules formed by cooking meat at high temperatures are heterocyclic amines (HCA's).  HCA's are formed through a chemical reaction between naturally occurring amino acids and creatine in the meat. 
Finally, grilling meat at high temperatures increases the amount of advanced glycolytic enzymes (AGE's) present in the meat.  When you eat the meat the AGE's get transferred to your body.  AGE's cause inflammation and oxidative damage in the tissues of your body.  These are the leading causes of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, etc.   
Fortunately, there are certain steps we can take to enjoy our barbeque while minimizing exposure to these toxic molecules. A report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008 showed that marinating meat in anti-oxidant rich substances can be effective.  The researchers found that an olive oil, lemon juice and garlic marinade cut HCA levels in chicken by as much as 90%. Marinating in red wine for 6 hours before grilling cut down HCA levels by up to 90% compared to unmarinated steak.
Healthy BBQ Tips:
1.      Cook at Lower Temperatures:   Lower temperatures cause more of a "roasting" effect than grilling, but they significantly cut down on the amount of HCA's formed in the meat.  Well-done meat has much higher levels of HCA's than meat cooked medium-rare. 
2.      Avoid Char-Grilling or Blackening Your Meat:  This causes the largest amount of HCA's to form.  Do your best not to char-grill your meat and avoid eating any blackened regions.
3.      Prevent Flaring:  Flames from grill cause the formation of both HCAs and PAHs. Keep an eye on your grill & turn meats frequently to minimize flaring.
4.      Use Grass-Fed Meat Sources:  Grilling grain-fed meat causes more AGE's to form due to a higher sugar content within the meat.  Grass-fed meat is lower in total fat than grain-fed meat.  Cooking leaner meat reduces the PAH formation.  Grass-fed meat also contains a significantly higher amount of healthy omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. 
5.      Marinate the Meat in Anti-Oxidant Rich sources:  Not only is this tasty but it reduces HCA levels by as much as 90%.  Use lemon/lime, red wine, apple cider vinegar, & superfood herbs.