There have been massive public health agendas aimed at the importance of thoroughly cooking your meat to prevent food poisoning, but very little has been said about the danger of overcooking your meats. The end result is a massive, widely held misconception about the healthiest way to cook your meat.
Ironically, if you get meat from a reputable source, such as a small organic farm, the risks of food poisoning from undercooked meat drastically diminish. But anytime you grill, barbecue or fry foods, you’re exposing yourself to cancer-causing chemicals. This is not just a risk; it’s pretty much a guarantee.
This is why, assuming you get your meat from a high-quality source, you are far better off eating it lightly cooked or even raw as opposed to well-done or charred.
In one study those who ate a lot of well-done steak had a 60 percent greater risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate steak less well done, so there are some strong associations here. Charred meats have actually been linked to many forms of cancer, including breast and prostate.
3 cancer-linked culprits that come from grilling meats
Any time you cook meat at high temperatures, whether you’re grilling, frying, broiling, etc., some pretty nasty chemicals are created.
The three you should be aware of are:
1. Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs):
These form when food is cooked at high temperatures, and they’re linked to cancer. In terms of HCA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and never eat blackened sections.
Scientists have estimated the average cancer risk because of heterocyclic amine exposure ranges from 1 per 10,000 for the average person to more than 1 per 50 for those ingesting large amounts of well-done muscle meats, especially flame-grilled chicken.
2. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs):
When fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, the smoke surrounds your food and it can transfer cancer-causing PAHs to the meat.
3. Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs):
When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized), it increases the formation of AGEs in your food. When you eat the food, it transfers the AGEs into your body. AGEs build up in your body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.
Aside from these dangerous chemicals formed, overcooking meat will make it much harder for your body to digest. The higher the temperature that food is cooked, the longer it stays in your gut and the more difficult it becomes for your digestive mechanisms to digest it.
This makes it more difficult for the food to be absorbed and function at a cellular level where it needs to work. When food cannot function in your cells, the cells can become deficient or toxic, which leads to deficiency and toxicity of your whole body, making your body less able to function optimally.
Does this mean you have to give up grilling this summer?
I know many of you are quite fond of your barbecue grills, and really I’d rather see more Americans staying home to cook their own meals, even if it is on a grill, than going out for fast food or eating processed convenience foods.
Plus, I don’t think you have to be completely perfect with your diet. I fully believe you just need to eat very well 80-95 percent of the time. If you do that your body typically has enough reserves to compensate for the damage you cause, for instance by eating grilled meat.
The exception here is if you’re really sick or have a terminal illness. Then you will want to get as close to 100 percent perfect with your diet as practically possible to improve your chances of recovery.
If you do opt to keep on grilling, there are ways to drastically cut back on the harmful substances formed, and I suggest you get in the habit of using them.
12 tips to make grilling healthier
One of the easiest ways to do this is simply by marinating your meat before cooking.
Marinating steak in red wine or beer for six hours before frying can cut levels of two types of HCAs by up to 90 percent. Beer was also efficient at reducing a third type of HCA, cutting levels significantly in just four hours.
Previous research has also shown that a red wine marinade has a similar effect on HCA levels in fried chicken. A sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic can also lower HCA levels in grilled chicken by as much as 90 percent.
As I said earlier, ideally you should eat your meat raw or very lightly cooked, but for those of you who aren’t ready to give up cooked meat just yet, here are my top 12 guidelines to keep in mind.
1. Limit the amount of grilled foods you eat, and make sure you’re eating plenty of other raw foods in your diet.
2. You can reduce the amount of PAHs when you grill by not cooking fatty meats, and by trimming the fat off before you grill.
3. When grilling, cook your food with indirect heat, such as on a rack rather than directly on the coals. Cooking on a cedar plank is also helpful.
4. Always avoid charring your meat (and don’t eat the black or brown parts).
5. Cook meat partially before putting it on the grill, or cook smaller pieces of meat, which take less time to cook, and therefore give HCAs less time to form.
6. You can reduce the amount of AGEs in your food by using an acidic marinade that contains lemon juice or vinegar.
7. Marinating meats before grilling or broiling them can reduce HCAs (according to some experts by 90 percent or more). However, only use natural ingredients for marinades, and keep the coating thin to avoid charring.
8. Flip your burgers often, as this will help cut down on HCAs.
9. Add blueberries or cherries to your burgers, as they can also help prevent the formation of HCAs.
10. Avoid grilling hot dogs, bratwurst and other processed meats, as these seem to be among the worst offenders.
11. Only grill high-quality, organic and grass-fed meats.
12. Cook the meat as little as possible. Rare or medium-rare at the absolute most. You can also quickly sear the meat on both sides, leaving the inside mostly raw. This gives the illusion that you’re eating cooked meat, with many of the benefits of raw.
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mercola graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1982. And while osteopaths or D.O.s are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery just like medical doctors (M.D.s), they bring something extra to the practice of medicine.
Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach to medicine, treating the entire person — rather than just the symptoms. Focusing on preventive health care, D.O.s help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it too.
Dr. Mercola is passionate about natural medicine and strongly believes that the current medical system is largely manipulated and controlled by large corporations whose primary focus is profit. His website, Mercola.com, which started as a small hobby interest in 1997, has now grown to today’s number one natural health website educating and empowering millions to take back the control over their own health.
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