Throw another veggie burger on the barbie, mate

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear, now that summer’s finally here, is another warning about the perils of charcoal-cooked food.  It’s bad enough you have to listen to news reports about protecting yourself from harmful ultraviolet rays, or the importance of putting on bug spray and keeping yourself hydrated. But messing with your char-broiled ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers and dogs is practically sacrilegious, right? Well, maybe…though there are compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

Here’s a brief science lesson. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures.

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

We can reduce our exposure to these potentially damaging chemicals through several cooking methods:

  • When possible, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.

 

Even though it probably goes without saying, we’ll say it again, anyway:  Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat appetizers and desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives.

Summer is a blast, and summer eating doesn’t have to be harmful if you eat everything in moderation and try to avoid those foods and preparation processes that are less healthy.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!