10/18/11

Barbequed Meat: A Health Tip

          In recent decades, growing evidence has mounted regarding the health effects of a group of compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are generated on the surfaces of meats cooked at excessively high temperatures (i.e. frying, grilling, and barbequing).  Among the most mutagenic substances ever studied, HCAs have been implicated as a cause for several cancers in humans including breast, prostate, pancreatic, as well as colorectal cancer.  Unfortunately, popular muscle meats such as beef, pork, fowl, and fish are all subject to HCA formation as a result of these cooking practices.  However, since HCA formation is temperature dependent, meat that is well done or slightly burned will tend to have higher levels of HCAs than that which is prepared medium or rare.  Fortunately, there are tricks to cooking that will limit HCA levels in the meat you cook without forcing you to abandon your favorite cooking practices.  One helpful tip is provided below.



Reducing Your Exposure via Microwave Pretreatment

            A useful technique for reducing HCA formation involves the brief microwaving of meat prior to cooking.  Following this process, juices produced by the meat are to be drained and discarded.  Though you may think such juices are made up solely of water and fat, they in fact contain the key precursors to HCA production; namely, amino acids, glucose, and creatine.  By removing these substances prior to cooking, you are reducing the potential for HCAs to form.  One study showed that microwaving a beef patty for two minutes and discarding the resulting juices prior to cooking reduced total HCA levels by a factor of three when cooking at 200 °C and a factor nine when cooking at 250 °C, this is an enormous reduction!

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                                                                                                             -Shahir Masri

10 comments:

  1. How long do I have to leave my meat in the microwave - till it becomes brown on the outside or just a few seconds?

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  2. Just a couple of minutes to let some of the fat and other juices run off.

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  3. Does this apply only to charcoal barbecuing or does it including propane too?

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    Replies
    1. It would apply to both, however charcoal bbqing would add harmful pollutants due to the dirtiness of coal.

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  4. I thought it was better to preferably avoid using the microwave because of the radiation. How is this possible?

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    1. The notion that microwaves impart radiation to food is actually a myth. Microwaves radiate the food much like the sun radiates your body. That is, the sun doesn't turn you radioactive, and neither do microwave ovens. They simply cause molecular vibrations that cause an increase in temperature.

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  5. This is a surprise to me. What if you only consume a small amount of HCA, is this going to dangerous too or does it have to be a large amount of HCA that can lead to these medical problem?

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    1. Yes, when it comes to carcinogens, there is no safe level unfortunately. Hence, such pollutants are termed "non-threshold" pollutants. So you should avoid as much as possible.

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  6. What about adding rosemary when grilling meat, is there a benefit?

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    1. Hi Jerry,
      I have not read about any specific benefits of adding rosemary to meat. However, I would confidently speculate that whatever health benefits rosemary has, they would not outweigh the negative affects of red meat consumption due not just from HCAs, but also saturated fat (linked with cardiovascular disease). If rosemary is beneficial, you would be better served to add the rosemary to some other food group.

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