May's Wellness Topic: Nutrition
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Dr. Linda Lee

Concerns over Grilled Meats?
by Linda Lee

What better way to kick back with family and friends on a summer evening than to host an event around a fired-up grill? The aroma of grilled meat over a wood fire makes me salivate almost as a much as the scent of fried bacon.

Unfortunately, there is growing concern that frequent or large consumption of meat cooked at high temperatures is associated with an increased risk of colon, breast and lung cancer. This is because cooking beef, chicken, pork, or fish at high temperatures produces chemicals that can break DNA strands in our bodies and lead to mutations, thereby increasing the risk of cancer. These substances, called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), are found primarily in the crust of fried, broiled, and cooked meat and fish. Even pan-frying at high temperatures increases the production of these harmful substances. The total HAA content in well-done beef is 3.5 times higher than that of medium-rare meat. Charred meat and gravies have the highest HAA content. Also, continuous barbecuing with the same charcoal increases the combustion of fat that dropped along the grilling period and leads to higher formation of HAAs.

But there is some good news. Some studies have shown that marinating the meat before cooking can reduce the production of HAAs. Marinades that contain fresh garlic, onions, red wine or beer can interfere with HAA formation when the meat is cooked. Also, frying meat in extra-virgin olive oil, as opposed to refined olive oil, reduces the formation of HAAs. Garlic, onions, and extra-virgin olive oils contain anti-oxidants that specifically block the HAA chemical reaction in meat.

So, please still enjoy these summer barbecues! If you are the chef, then use a marinade for at least 30 minutes before cooking your meat. If you are a guest, fill your plate first with grilled vegetables, fruits and salads before going to the grilled meat. Barbecues should be fun, but moderation is the key.

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