Scientists have discovered that meats that are cooked at high, dry heat (like barbecuing, pan-frying and broiling as opposed to stewing, roasting or baking at lower temperatures) form a carcinogen called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The more well done the meat, the more HCAs it’s likely to contain.
HCAs aren’t found in the charred stuff you can scrape off, but develop inside the meat, due to an interaction between free amino acids and creatine.
Note: The charred stuff that forms on meat burned by flames from your barbecue should be scraped off and discarded. That char contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are also considered carcinogens.
Scientists from the National Cancer Institute agree that the risk of getting cancer from HCAs is nowhere near the risk of, say, getting cancer from smoking. So there’s really no need to send your grill to a landfill. But there are some pretty simple things you can do to reduce the formation of HCAs or their effect, so you can check it off your “worry” list.
And if you buy delicious, lean, grass-fed beef like I do, which has more cancer-fighting CLA than your average red meat, it just makes sense to make the healthiest burgers and steaks you can.
So here are a few simple tips that can reduce the formation of HCAs and lessen their impact on your body:
1. Add ground fruit, like tart cherries or blueberries to your ground beef.
Studies have shown adding about 10 percent ground tart cherry significantly reduces the formation of HCAs. And you get a very juicy burger!
2. Marinate your meat.
It seems that keeping the meat moist, be it beef, chicken or pork, also decreases the formation of HCAs. In fact, researchers at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that even a quick dip in a marinade before grilling can reduce those HCAs by as much as 90 percent!
3. Round out your meal with fruits and veggies.
Fruit salads and leafy greens topped with your favorite garden veggies not only reduce the effects of HCAs, but create a much healthier meal all the way around. And don’t be afraid to grill your veggies and fruits. They do not form HCAs.
4. Enhance with vitamin E.
Adding vitamin E to raw ground meat hinders HCAs, says J. Ian Gray, Ph.D., of Michigan State University. His tests showed that 120 milligrams of vitamin E powder mixed into or sprinkled on 3.5-ounce patties can reduce HCA formation as much as 72%. Just crack open a capsule of vitamin E.
5. Add garlic and herbs.
In tests, garlic, rosemary and sage reduced HCAs, Gray says. Mix them into burgers, use them in marinades or just eat them in a meal with grilled meat.