For many of us, warm weather signals the start of grilling season. Unfortunately, grilling meat and cooking meat at high temperatures causes certain chemical compounds to form that can increase your risk of cancer.
This year, if you find the urge to fire up the barbecue irresistible (and who can blame you?), you can make your grilling safer by adding a couple of common food items. It turns out you slash the number of these risky compounds using rosemary or tart cherries.
Chief among the cancer-causing compounds produced by cooking meats are heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are classified by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as human carcinogens that increase the risk of cancer.
Rosemary extract slashed toxic HCAs by 30 to 100%
Researchers at Kansas State University studied adding rosemary extract to ground beef. In addition to alcohol, the rosemary extracts contained a mixture of rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid. The researchers were not sure how the compounds worked, but they found that adding the extracts reduced the HCA levels anywhere from 30 to 100 percent.
In another study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers in Saudi Arabia found that the total amount of HCAs in grilled chicken was reduced seven-fold when 2 percent rosemary extract was added. The researchers also found that two other dangerous compounds created during cooking were inhibited to non-detectable levels.
Tart cherries reduced cancer-linked compounds
Previously, researchers at Michigan State University added tissue of two varieties of tart cherries (Montmorency and Balaton) to ground beef patties and compared them to a control group of plain ground meat patties. In addition to studying fat content and formation of HCAs, the researchers also studied the levels of lipid oxidation during storage, which causes meat to become discolored, change texture and taste spoiled.
The result was that the addition of the cherries reduced the formation of HCAs and also retarded lipid oxidation and spoilage.
“The fat contents of the cherry patties were, as expected, lower than that of the control patties, whereas the moisture contents were greater,” said J. Ian Gray, PhD, Professor of Food Science at Michigan State. “Cherry tissue will not only slow down the oxidation deterioration of meat lipids, but will also substantially reduce the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines.”
Try using fresh rosemary and tart cherries in marinades, mixed into burgers, and sprinkled on top of your grilled meats, fish and vegetables.
In addition to cherries and rosemary, which are known for their anti-cancer properties and loaded with antioxidants, other food items have also been shown to have the ability to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds during cooking. Honey is excellent for marinades, providing great taste, browning and glaze formation. It also blocks the production of HCAs and other carcinogens during grilling.
Other common food items, which reduce cancer-causing compounds include: basil, mint, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, garlic and thyme.
6 tips for reducing your cancer risk from cooked meats
Here are some other ways to help reduce the risk of cancer from cooked meats:
- Cook at lower temperatures. The higher the temperature the more HCAs and other cancer causing compounds are formed.
- Bake when possible. With baking it is easier to control temperature and the highest amount of cancer causing compounds are produced by grilling, barbecuing and pan frying.
- Don’t make gravy from meat drippings. The National Cancer Institute warns that meat drippings – even from meats cooked at lower temperatures – contain substantial amounts of HCAs.
- Limit your consumption of meats, reduce the portion sizes, select leaner cuts.
- Avoid charring meat and eating charred parts.
- Be sure to eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
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