Enjoying a high grade cut of beef is almost innate to being human. While there may be exceptions for a small number of people, the vast majority of human beings have enjoyed the taste, flavor, and nourishing properties for thousands of years. With omnivorous eating, balance is key. Too much of certain types of meat may not be ideal. Just as cooking in specific ways aren’t ideal and produce a high amount of carcinogens. There is a balance on the planet and inside the body that can fall off kilter if proper measures aren’t taken.
Despite the ubiquitous notion of meat being known as a nourishing and strengthening food for so long, it has become unfairly villainized lately. Many people feel pressured to completely remove all meat from their diet. This is not necessary! The human body, just like the planet, is all about balance. Within the vegan movement, so many have been suffering and going back to meat because of health problems.
The overwhelming majority that switches back say they feel infinitely better mentally, emotionally, and physically. Despite that, controversial studies have caused concerns for many meat lovers. While some of these studies are inconsistent and poorly designed, the carcinogens from grilling meat are a legitimate concern.
The Harmful Compounds That Form when Cooking on High Heat
We know from dozens of studies that carcinogens not very friendly to the human body. But we also know from hundreds of years of experience that humans love grilled meats. Steak, chicken, fish, lamb, whatever it may be; grilling undoubtedly maximizes the aroma and flavor. Unfortunately, carcinogens tend to build up when the drippings of fat or juice ignite the flame. When meat is burned or heated at a very high temperature, compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) form. These compounds can form when either grilling, broiling, or pan searing.
Studies show that many of these compounds can damage DNA and contribute to certain health issues over time. Furthermore, research has seen some possible links from high levels of exposure of these compounds to cancer, cataracts, kidney and liver damage. There are also studies being conducted to see if any links exist between these compounds and cardiovascular disease. In addition, browning meats and other foods can form Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE’s). Despite that, omitting different types of meats from the diet can cause many nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to health problems. So, what’s the solution?
Aside from the Debbie downer realities of grilling, there’s good news for meat lovers. If certain tips are incorporated when cooking, the level of these noxious compounds can be dramatically decreased. This will help to avert many of the dangers associated with consuming large amounts of them over many years. For people that enjoy grilling meats, here are a few tricks that significantly lower PAH’s, HCA’s, and AGE’s.
1. Flip the Meat Often
Research has shown that flipping meat several times helps to prevent char and buildup of PAH’s and HCA’s. Oftentimes, the tendency is to leave a piece of meat on one side for several minutes, flip it, and do the same on the other side. This leads to a higher saturation of the meat with these harmful molecules. Fewer flare ups and less intense heat helps to lower those toxins to a significant degree.
2. Cook on Lower Heat
While some steak lovers may vehemently object to this rule, it is very useful for lowering the carcinogenic harm. There is a direct correlation of using higher heat with the formation of these harmful byproducts. Lowering the grill or stove from high to medium/low heat can make a big difference. When this practice is combined with more frequent flipping, the amount of PAH’s, HCA’s, and AGE’s will be much lower.
3. Marinate & Add Herbs For Less Carcinogens
It has been shown in studies that marinating meat will help to reduce some of the undesirable compounds. A marinade low in oil is preferable. If an overnight marinade isn’t possible, it is still beneficial to add something right before cooking. The coating of marinade provides a layer of protection from the reaction that occurs from high heat. Including lemon juice, onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil, and other herbs will make it significantly stronger at lowering the compounds that form.
Following these tips will help to dramatically cut down on these problematic molecules and allow you to enjoy meat in the healthiest way possible.