Charring, Burning your meat, poultry or fish as in Barbecuing or frying-grilling

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

hen you char, burn, grill or barbecue any form of red meat (steaks), hot dogs, white meat as in chicken, or deep frying at high temperatures in your griller, or cooking at high temperatures for a long time (high heat cooking), results in a poisonous chemical called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

These amines can damage an individual’s genes, raising the risk and incidence of stomach and colo-rectal cancers.

It is advisable to pre-cook these foods in the microwave or oven for about 5 minutes, and then grill. Use very little cooking oil in grilling. Less grilling time means less chance to exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, as mentioned before.

The grills need to be scrubbed and cleaned after each use to prevent harmful chemicals from building up and transferring to your food.

Marinading meat with vinegar, lemon juice and herbs like mint, rosemary or sage for a few hours, seem to reduce HCA formation as much as 96%

Grilled foods healthier choice
It is better to eat “grilled” foods over “fried” choices at a restaurant, because grilled foods generally a healthier choice- no batter coating or dripping grease.

Grilling appears better and tastes fantastic, but for health reasons there are rules to follow in the grilling methods. After all, yummy charring that forms on red meat and poultry after prolonged grilling can form PAH (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and tempting to eat more.

Avoid processed meats
Avoid eating processed meats like bacon, ham, salami, sausages, hot dogs and pepperoni, frequently, whatever method they are cooked. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding such foods as they seem to damage your DNA, causing an increased risk to cancer of the gut.

Limit red meat
Most healthy diets recommend eating very little meat, as in the well recommended Mediterranean diet. Limit your red meat to three, six-ounce (cooked) servings per week. One serving is about the size of two decks of cards. It is better to substitute by grilling or cooking skinless chicken breasts and fish instead.

Trim the fat
Cancer can be caused from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) formed from the smoke when fat from the meat, poultry or fish drips into the heating source whilst grilling. So, it is reasonable to remove the fat from meat, or poultry as a precaution. Eating grilled meats with high fat and sausages can pump more fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol into your food.

Add fruits and Veggies
Along with barbecuing meats and fish, it is a good idea to include fruits and veggies, including root veggies like potatoes, to load the meal with vitamins, and other micro-nutrients help your body fight cancer. Eating more fruits and veggies, even highly grilled benefits your body in so many ways-reducing your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity and some types of cancer.

PAHs and HCAs don’t form on grilled fruits and veggies, but provide antioxidants in the same meal.

According to the experts at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre says that small changes as referred before to what and how-you grill can keep cancer off the menu.
Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka don’t believe in outdoor barbecues and grilling meats traditionally, may be in the five star hotels.

Instead of grilling deep frying in vegetable oils seems to be popular, which brings in its health problems, too. Eating deep fried food was associated with breast cancer risk among women, pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer and so on, which most people are not aware of. Television cookery demonstrations are full of such methods of cooking. It is generally accepted fried foods are ‘rice pullers’ and much tastier than steam cooking. Fried dry fish is included in most rice packets sold along the streets in Colombo. Chinese are smarter by stir frying foods with deep heat for just a few minutes.

It is much healthier to cook your food as in curries, with water, coconut milk and spices as in cooked greens, beans, legumes, cabbage, sweet potatoes to reduce incidence of breast and other cancers.

Conclusions: Grilling meats and fish on high heat should be avoided. Deep frying also has its risks. Cooking in boiling water with coconut creams and spices would be the way to go.

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