Family Kitchen: Grilling to reduce carcinogens

Lisa Says: We love to grill and these are great tips to make it even healthier based on a UCLA grilled-burger study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition last May.   Enjoy the article.

Family Kitchen: Grilling to reduce carcinogens

By by Kim O’Donnel, USA TODAY        Updated 05/24/2011 7:44 PM


Like a lot of other American dudes (and I apologize for generalizing, but grilling is by and large a dude thing), he’s setting his sights on the upcoming holiday weekend and a summer of flame wrestling.  Meanwhile, I plot how to make our summer grilling expeditions a tad more healthful. My guy is one open-minded eater who’s eating more plants and whole grains these days, but when he dons that grilling hat, it’s all about the meat, baby.


But here’s the thing about grilling meat that we’ve known for a number of years and conveniently ignore when we’re romancing our grates: It makes chemicals that cause cancer. In a nutshell, high heat applied to animal protein makes carcinogens called Heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Add meat drippings to the mix, which create smoke, and you get a mess of polcyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

For advice on scaring away the nasties, I turned to my friend Wendy Bazilian, a Southern California-based dietitian, author and all-around nutrition smartypants. She had one word for me: polyphenols. Translation: These are the disease-fighting antioxidants found in fruit, vegetables, tea, wine, soybeans and, intriguingly, herbs and spices. 

She pointed me to a UCLA grilled-burger study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition last May. The researchers were interested in yet another heat-meets-meat cancer-causing compound called malondialdehyde, which also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Their antioxidants of choice: an herb and spice blend that includes ground cloves, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, ginger, black pepper and paprika. 

Compared with burgers seasoned only with salt, the heavily spiced burgers (1.5 tablespoons per half pound) reduced the concentration of the disease-causing compound by 71%, researchers concluded. 

“This is so notable,” Bazilian says. “It’s giving us every reason in the world to say, ‘I’ve gotta find some herbs and spices.’ Plus, it sounds delicious.” 

As scientifically promising as this may be, I was concerned how this overly spiced burger would pass kitchen muster. Bazilian advised “incremental culinary doses, which is better than none.” 

I got to work on a spice blend to send us on our antioxidant way. I also added dried sour cherries, which have been studied for their HCA-fighting prowess. 

Turns out dried cherries may be the best thing that ever happened to a burger. They caramelize and add a depth of flavor I never knew possible. We tried them in lamb, beef and turkey burgers, and they worked like a champ. 

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