Here is a guest post from my friend, Emily Segal, who is a certified holistic nutrition counselor and writes a blog on her website, Triumph Wellness. Be sure to sign up for one of her classes, such as Sugar Detox. You won’t be disappointed. I learned a lot and came home with recipes that helped relieve my sugar cravings.
Barbequing or Al HaEsh, in Hebrew, is a national pastime in Israel. Wherever you go in this country, you will see groups of families and friends huddled around the grill, enjoying the outdoors and food cooked fresh over a fire.
It is then, with a heavy heart, that I am here to deliver the bad news: Grill too often and you are exposing yourself and your family to an enormous cancer risk. But before you send the lynch mob to my house, let me explain the problems and offer some solutions!
When animal meats are cooked over a grill, or any high heat source, for that matter, a very dangerous compound is formed. Heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, have been identified by the FDA as known carcinogens. Meat need not be charred or well done to contain these chemicals. Testing has found HCAs in grilled chicken patties cooked for just three minutes on each side.
Even chicken breasts grilled for just six minutes can contain dangerous levels of HCA, which puts barbecue chicken at the top of a new list of the five worst foods to grill. High HCA levels were also found in grilled steak, pork, salmon, and hamburger.
The Five Worst Foods to Grill:
- Chicken breast, skinless, boneless, grilled, well done contain14,000 nanograms of HCA per 100 grams
- Steak, grilled, well done contains 810 nanograms per 100 grams
- Pork, barbecued 470 nanograms per 100 grams
- Salmon, grilled with skin contains 166 nanograms per 100 grams
- Hamburger, grilled, well done contains 130 nanograms per100 grams
There are two more issues that make barbecued meat unsafe for consumption:
1. Another cancer-causing compound – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) – also forms on barbecued meat when fat from the meat, drips off into the fire and causes a flare up of flames and smoke. PAHs have been classified as cancer causing agents by various organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, we are exposed to PAHs through breathing air contaminated by wild fire or coal OR eating meat or foods that have been grilled.
2. Hot dogs. Wow, do I even need to tell you how unhealthy hot dogs are? Research has shown that processed meat, such as that found in hot dogs or other smoked meats, increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent for every 50 grams consumed daily! (A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.) A 2002 international study spear-headed by the American Cancer Society showed an alarming increase in colorectal cancer rates worldwide, but ESPECIALLY here in Israel! The landmark report clearly states that no amount of processed meat is considered safe to eat.
So, what can we do? Do we need to stop barbecuing entirely? Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself and your family while you still enjoy the grill:
1. If you are going to grill meats, be sure to serve fresh, raw fruits and vegetables as side dishes. Most Israelis already seem to instinctively do this. Raw fruits and veggies are loaded with carotenoids and other phytochemicals that are noted for their anti-cancer properties. Use organic fruits and vegetables or course, as conventionally-grown are covered in the very substances we are trying to avoid!
2. Try grilling other items, not just meat. Vegetables don’t produce HCA’s or PAH’s and neither does tofu or veggie burgers. Try making veggie kabobs with your favorite veggies and tofu cubes. You can also make skewers that alternate bites of meat with vegetables or fruit. That way you’ll eat smaller portions of the meat.
Some other things that taste great on the grill are: Portabello mushroom “steaks”, potatoes or sweet potatoes, corn, pineapple, papaya and mango!
3. Cook meats at lower temperature for shorter times. One way is to pre-cook meats in the oven and then finish them quickly on the grill. Or buy smaller cuts of meat that take less time to cook through.
4. Select lean cuts of meat and trim the fat to reduce PAH’s. Or cook on top of a hot plate to reduce fat flare-ups.
5. Don’t eat blacked or burned meat or chicken. They have the highest levels of HCA.
6. Marinate meats before grilling. Some studies have show that marinades containing vinegar, red wine or lemon can reduce the formation of HCA’s.
7. Skip the hot dogs and other processed meats. They are just not worth it.
The bottom line is that from our earliest days on this planet, we humans have enjoyed gathering around a campfire, cooking food in the outdoors and sharing the experience with loved ones. There is something very profoundly healthy and probably cancer-preventing in doing that! But as our food supply becomes increasingly chemicalized and even the charcoal and lighter fluid we cook with would be unknown to our ancestors, we must practice caution and moderation. If we want a long-life of barbecuing ahead of us, we need to adapt some of the above steps to safe-guard our health.
Here is a delicious, healthy marinade and/or sauce with an Asian twist to spread on those veggie-tofu kabobs:
- 1 T miso
- 2 T tahina paste
- 2 T olive oil
- 3 T rice vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 2 T brown rice syrup maple syrup or honey
Just stir all of the ingredients together and brush on the kabobs before putting them on the barbeque and again before or during grilling. And unlike meat marinades, you can continue brushing this sauce on the cooked kabob without danger of food poisoning.