Warm weather usually means cookouts and family barbecues. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken are the epitome of the perfect weekend meal. For years, there has been controversy over whether grilled meat could cause cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, well done or charred meats contain especially high levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Many studies have provided positive correlations between cancer incidence and consumption of heavily cooked meat.
When protein foods are cooked at very high temperatures there is a breakdown of the amino acid creatine which results in the production of HCAs. Formation of HCAs can be significantly reduced with these techniques and ingredients:
1. Use Marinades. Most often marinades contain some type of acid, such as, lemon juice or vinegar. Acids will begin the process of breaking down proteins which in turn decreases the cooking time of the meat and decreases the production of HCAs.
2. Add Garlic and Onions. Organosulfurs are found in garlic, onions, and shallots and have been shown to block HCA carcinogenesis. Try adding garlic or onions to the marinade or sliding them into the flesh of the meat.
3. Enjoy Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Mint, Citrus, Olive Oil, Green Tea. Phenolic compounds are found in volatile oils of spices,seasonings, and citrus. Phenolic compounds are known for their strong antioxidant capabilities which help the body to fight off dangerous compounds. Add herbs, olive oil or citrus to your marinades, and enjoy a glass of green tea with your grilled meal.
4. Get Your Chlorophyll. Enjoy tasty leafy greens with your grilled meal to help block HCA carcinogenesis.
5. Avoid Well Done. The longer the meat is cooked and the higher the temperature the more HCAs that are produced. Once flames are started on a charcoal grill allow them to go down to avoid direct contact with the meat. If your grill has racks use the higher rack to cook the meat.
6. Turn Down the Heat. The high temperatures on the grill increase the production of HCAs through the grill marks. Grilling at a lower temperature reduce this, and is the best way to cook grass-fed meat. High heat grilling with grass-fed beef will dry out the meat. It is best to set the flame a little lower when grilling. This will protect from HCA production and increase the flavor of the meat.
Keep in mind that, just like everything in life, moderation is key. There is only an increased risk of cancer when excessive amounts of meats cooked at high temperatures are consumed. You still can enjoy grilled meats, but just do so in moderation and use these tips to help decrease the amount of HCAs.
Shop the Green BEAN store for sustainable and humanely-raised meats.
Beth Blessing (Organic Beth) has a Masters in Nutrition and is the co-founder of Green Bean Delivery. She is a mother of three that loves supporting family farms and searching for unique, artisanal products. Her goal is to help others eat better and live a more natural, holistic life through healthy recipes and practical tips. Follow her on Facebook: @OrganicBeth
**Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.