In a recent class for one of my weight loss groups, I mentioned the health hazards of barbequing. A moan channeled through the group and I could imagine the collective sigh reaching ear-splitting decibels as the news traveled worldwide (note: vivid imagination). Dedicated barbq’ers everywhere know the pleasures that their grilling and smoking produces and are unlikely to give it up unless the grim reaper is knocking at their door.
So what is the issue with barbies and what is the solution? I promise to give you the good news after I give you the bad news. But let’s get the fear factor stimulated first. It can be a great motivator.
Grilling, frying and broiling are all prone to creating cancer producing HCA’s (heterocyclic amines) and PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). In addition there is the delectable formation of AGE’s (advanced glycation end products). AGE’s do exactly what they sound like they do – they cause aging. Helen Vlassara, M.D. is a professor of medicine and geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a specialist in AGE research. She was quoted in an article in the May 2008 issue of Women’s Health magazine. “If you have high amounts of AGEs in your body – no matter how young you are – you’re on your way to developing chronic diseases you normally wouldn’t see until you are much older.” AGEing shows up in the form of inflammation, deterioration of the skin, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and kidney disease.
The higher the temperatures, the longer the cooking times, the drier the heat, and the more smoke produced, the more the dangerous substances will be present. Barbequeing is particularly ripe for the development of PAH’s, HAC’s and AGE’s because dry, high heat cooking combines with more smoking than 220,000 cigarettes. ¹
Now, here’s the good news. You can reduce your exposure to those pesky age inducing, cancer friendly substances possibly by as much as 99% by following these tips:
- Stay away from the fumes. Avoiding inhalation will reduce your exposure to the PAH rich smoke.
- Marinate your meats, fowl and fish prior to grilling. An acidic liquid such as lemon or vinegar reduces the HCA’s, maybe by as much as 92 – 99% according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Combine your acid with olive oil and herbs and spices.
- Speaking of herbs and spices, the Food Safety Consortium Project at Kansas State University discovered that a rub of basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage or any combination of those spices provide antioxidants to counter the free radical nature of the HCA’s and AGE’s.
- Always eat lots of vegetables with your grilled animal The phytochemicals from veggies provide the perfect antioxidant balance. Follow the meal with dessert composed of fruit and green tea for even more antioxidant power.
- Raise the grill higher from the heat. This cuts down on how much of the damaging deposits from the dripping fat and smoke reverse back onto the food.
- Choose leaner cuts and trim all the visible fat. This is another way to limit the meat’s contact with the smoke and drippings.
- Cook smaller pieces or thinner slices to reduce the need for longer cooking times and higher temperature.
- Grill in foil packets. This will also limit contact with smoke and deposits from drippings.
- Flip your meat frequently or buy a rotisserie capable grill so that cooking heat is evenly distributed and you reduce charring (I know its tasty but it is also a nasty source of HCA’s and AGE’s).
- Clean your grill routinely. After every grilling is best and use environmentally friendly solvents. The accumulated guck on your grill has already been hit hard by the heat and smoke and guess what? Yup, HCA’s, AGE’s and PAH’s.
¹Based on research by the French environmental group Robin des Bois record of dioxin emissions during a 2 hour barbequeing of 4 large steaks, 4 turkey cuts and 8 large sausages.