I think we can all agree that everything tastes better when it’s cooked on the barbecue. The flavors are more intense, the juices sealed, and that smoky flavor is hard to beat. While spending some time with friends in Colorado, I was blown away with the flavor of the chicken that was cooked on the barbecue. I finally have one now, and I am now too aware that chicken I cook in the oven is inferior to BBQ chicken.
You have to wonder if a bunch of guys standing around the barbecue while flipping some meat with a drink in hand hasn’t changed at all for hundreds of thousands of years. Cooking meat over a flame isn’t a new concept. So why is there so much concern over barbecuing? Is barbecuing healthy?
Perhaps you have heard reports that there are health risks associated with barbecuing meat. When you barbecue, carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are created when the fat drips on the fire, causing a smoky flame. Another toxic compound called heterocyclic amines are created by high heat reacting with the proteins.
According to the National Cancer Institute, exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals; however, whether such exposure causes cancer in humans is unclear (makes sense since animals do not cook their food). This is because HCAs and PAHs become capable of damaging DNA only after they are metabolized by specific enzymes in the body, a process called “bioactivation.” The problem is that each individual has a unique metabolism and enzyme bank that may skew the cancer risks associated with exposure to these compounds as outlined in Nutrition Genome Reports.
High heat also increases the formation of advanced glycogen end products (AGE’s), which build up in the body over time and increase oxidative stress and inflammation. While I still think there is something missing since we have been cooking meat and fish over a flame for a long time, these compounds appear to be a problem and there are ways to reduce your risk.
Top Ways to Reduce Heterocyclic Amines and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Meat and Fish for Healthy Barbecuing
1. Olive oil, yogurt, wine, beer or fruit marinades with garlic, onion, lemon, herbs and spices
Marinades can reduce the risk of HCA’s up to 90 percent! High antioxidant fruits, lemon juice, herbs and spices help keep meat fresh and juicy, while protecting against HCAs and reducing AGE’s. Make homemade marinades with garlic and spices like rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, basil and oregano. Olive oil based marinades work great for beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish, yogurt marinades work best for chicken and lamb, and fruit marinades work best for chicken and fish. A 2006 paper testing a red wine marinade on HCA formation in fried chicken breasts reported a reduction in one particular HCA by 88%. Garlic added directly to hamburger patties has been found to lower HCA production by more than 60-70% in two studies. Avoid commercial tomato and sugar-based barbecue sauces that have been found to actually double and triple chemical formation.
2. Choose grass-fed meat, a gas grill and cook medium to rare
Avoid conventional meat that could have residues of pesticides, creating other dangerous compounds at high heat. Grass-fed meat is higher in vitamin E, and in a study adding concentrations of vitamin E to the surface of ground beef reduced HCA production by 70%. Charcoal grilling promotes the highest levels of PAH’s, so choose a gas grill. Aim for medium to medium rare for red meat, flip often and avoid burning. The darker the color the higher the HCA concentrations.
3. Food and drink pairing
What you drink and eat with your steak can also make a big difference in the reduction of carcinogenic compounds. For example, the phytonutrients in Brussels sprouts protect against carcinogenic compounds during barbecuing, which in particular are tied to the proliferation to colon cancer cells. In a study from Carcinogenesis, animals given Brussels sprout juice and heterocyclic amine carcinogen had a reduction in pre-cancerous cells in the colon by up to 52%. Green tea, black tea, rooibos tea, red wine, blueberries, blackberries, red grapes, kiwi, watermelon, parsley, and spinach all inhibit the mutagenic activity of certain HCAs in vitro.
Sulforphane present in cruciferous vegetables has also been shown to have antimutagenic effects against HCAs, with broccoli sprouts containing some of the highest amounts of sulforaphane. The good bacteria in fermented vegetables and dairy help reduce the effect, and guess what? That bottle of beer or glass of wine while you grill is also neutralizing the effect of the harmful compounds thanks to the yeast. Don’t forget Kombucha which contains green tea, black tea, yeast and probiotics, to supercharge your protection.
If you do a lot of barbecuing, consider taking chlorella. Chlorella is a chlorophyll-rich micro algae with strong detoxification qualities by binding to heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides. In one study, chlorella was found to protect against one of the most abundant heterocyclic amines found in meat or fish cooked at high temperatures. One Russian trial using broken cell wall chlorella and cilantro actually eliminated all heavy metals including mercury. Chlorella is more popular than vitamin C in Japan for immunity and is an important supplement if you consume a lot of fish. Quality control is very crucial which is why I chose this particular one that I have used myself.
I received this as a gift, and I have to say that this must be a well kept secret for chefs because meat and fish taste amazing on it. You don’t need to salt anything, just add what you want to grill with your marinade and place it on the BBQ. The benefit of the Himalayan Salt Block is that for most cuts of meat or fish, the fat stays on the block and doesn’t hit the flame. Plus the heat is better distributed evenly through the block without sacrificing grilling flavor. Winning combo.