Happy and Healthy on the 4th of July

July 4th is about a week away and Summer is the time for grilling and eating outdoors. While everyone loves the taste of good barbecue, research shows that grilling meats can cause the formation of cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). People who consume well-done meat on a regular basis are 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer. Longer cooking times and high heat might also increase the risk of stomach, lung, and breast cancer.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to make grilling healthier while still preserving the flavor of the food.

Marinating meat can substantially decrease carcinogens. Red wine decreased carcinogens in beef by 40% when the meat marinated for six hours. All you have to do is soak your meats in a red wine in an airtight container overnight – preferably glass. It’s as easy as uncorking a bottle. You can improve your results, of course. Herbs and spices such as thyme, sage, red pepper and garlic can reduce HCAs by 60%. And rosemary is even more effective, potentially lowering HCAs by 90%. Try this easy recipe for a delicious marinade. Discard the marinade after removing the meat, as this is where the HCAs will collect.

Temperatures above 325°F cause HCAs to form. Try cooking meat for longer at lower temperatures, or grill vegetables, which don’t produce carcinogens. Kebabs containing ½ meat and ½ vegetables will not only cut down on cancer-causing chemicals, but calories as well. Mushrooms, onions, squash, bell pepper and eggplant brushed with olive oil are good choices.

Fat that drips onto coals and produces smoke also forms chemicals that are best avoided. If you are cooking burgers, don’t press them onto the grill so that juices drip and cause flares. Better yet, choose lower fat meats such as bison, fish, chicken breast instead of legs or thighs, or shredded turkey breast with barbecue sauce instead of pulled pork. Corn on the cob and potatoes are low fat, as long as you don’t smother them in butter.

And don’t forget that you can even barbecue a healthy dessert by briefly grilling fruit. The natural sugars will caramelize, making fruit even sweeter and more flavorful. Try apples, pears, peaches or watermelon for guilt-free eating and entertaining this summer.

Jessica Needle, ND practices at Optimal Health Center
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