Who doesn't love a cookout? But there is a dark side to that crispy crust on your steak: those high grilling temperatures can create dangerous compounds in meat.
The good news is that a new study shows that marinating meats in lemon juice or vinegar can reduce harmful compounds developed during cooking; compounds linked to aging and chronic disease.
What are these compounds and why are they dangerous?
The first set of compounds created by cooking meat at high temperatures are called Advanced Glycation End products. AGEs appear in the blood of people with chronic diseases that are associated with inflammation, including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Our bodies naturally have AGEs, but research has found that foods cooked at high temperatures create AGEs that can be absorbed by the body. About 10 percent of AGEs in foods like seared burgers and fried chicken may be absorbed.
All foods, and especially animal products, contain different levels of AGEs. Meats and full-fat cheeses contain the most AGEs, followed by pork, fish, and eggs. Fruits and vegetables are low in AGEs, and their antioxidants can decrease some damage done by AGEs.
In addition to causing heart disease and other diseases related to inflammation, AGEs may cause faster aging.
How does lemon reduce AGEs?
New research shows that marinating foods in an acidic, low-pH liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar may help slow AGE formation significantly. For example, the level of AGEs in beef were cut in half after marinating for an hour in low-pH liquid. Shorter amounts of time marinating may help too.
True Lemon has the exact ph of lemons because it is made from fresh lemon juices and oils. True Lemon behaves almost identically to fresh lemon juice when used in water, drinks, and beverages - as well as in rubs, marinades, and other recipes.
In addition to marinating meats in lemon or True Lemon, you can lower the amount of AGEs in your diet by:
- Limiting consumption of grilled, broiled, fried, and microwaved meats.
- Choosing to cook at lower temperatures: steam fish and seafood, simmer chicken in sauce, and braise red meat in a cooking liquid.
- Boiling, poaching, steaming, and stewing instead of grilling or frying.
- Eating fewer processed foods, since many processed foods have been cooked at high temperatures.
How spices reduce cancer-causing compounds in grilled meat:
Unfortunately, AGEs are not the only dangerous result of cooking meat at high temperatures. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are cancer-causers created when meats are barbecued, grilled, fried, or broiled. HCAs can contribute to colorectal, lung, mammary, pancreatic, prostate, and stomach cancers. And beef develops more HCAs than either chicken or pork.
Researchers have found that adding spices to meat before grilling helps prevent the formation of HCAs. Scientists at Kansas State University found that Chinese ginger, rosemary, and turmeric directed the greatest antioxidant activity to preventing the formation of HCAs. Rosemary was the strongest HCA preventative.
In addition to adding spices, research has also shown that meat cooked under 352-degrees for less than four minutes has very low levels of HCAs, and that HCAs increase as temperature and cooking times increase.
Super marinating with True Lemon and spices:
Marinating is not just a great way to reduce AGEs and HCAs, it is also one of the best ways to give meat flavor and to tenderize at the same time. Include True Lemon Salt-Free Seasonings in your rubs and marinades to not only decrease damaging compounds that develop during cooking, but to enjoy the most flavorful meats. Many marinating recipes, especially marinades found in our recipes archive, can be found that include lemon, vinegar, rosemary, ginger, or turmeric.
You can even invent your own!
Pay attention to these tips for best marinade results:
- Trim the meat so that its ready for cooking before marinating.
- Note if the marinade contains acid (such as wine, lemon juice, or vinegar), salt, or alcohol. Each one reduces the amount of time the meat should marinate.
- Combine the meat and marinade in a nonreactive, sealed container. Do not use aluminum or cast iron. Avoid metal altogether, if possible. Marinate in a sealable plastic bag if you can, so you can turn it, ensuring that all surfaces get soaked in the marinade.
- Always marinate in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Marinating times: Tender beef cuts can be marinated for 15 minutes to 2 hours for flavor. Less tender beef cuts should be marinated for at least 6 hours. Poultry, cubed meat, or stew meat can be marinated for up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, lamb roasts, chops, and steaks can be marinated for up to 5 days.
- Pat meat dry after removing from marinade to promote even browning.
- Throw away the marinade after use.
Sources: "Here's How to Avoid Carcinogens When You're Grilling." Mind Body Green.
"Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk." National Cancer Institute.