With winter now gone, many of us are ready for warmer days as we prepare for the annual summer rite of passage, the backyard barbeque. This often entails the devouring of large quantities of the ever popular food offering: the hamburger. Unfortunately, as many of us know, excessive consumption of red meat has a number of adverse health consequences, including the potential to shorten our lifespan.
One of these consequences results from cooking red meat at high temperatures, like those on a barbeque grill. This is because it results in the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCA), which have been found to be carcinogenic in animal models, and may increase a person’s risk for numerous forms of cancer, including colorectal, stomach, lung, mammary, and prostate.
Now, however, food chemists have found that adding a little spice to hamburgers not only enhances their flavor, but it may actually temper the formation of HCAs. Certain spices contain known antioxidants that reduce levels of HCA in cooked meats, sometimes by as much as 40% when they are added before cooking.
The spices in question include cumin, coriander seed, galangal, fingerroot, rosemary, and turmeric. The last three had the highest level of HCA-inhibiting activity, with rosemary being the most effective. In fact, commercially available extracts of rosemary have been found to inhibit HCA formation by as much as 79%. The simple incorporation of these spices into the cooking regimen may therefore be a healthier (and tastier) way to cook your meat.
By now, most people who give a lot of thought to their health will acknowledge the importance of a healthy diet which, unfortunately for meat lovers, means eating less red meat, especially ground beef. In addition to the constant public health problems that stem from tainted or contaminated meat, beef can be a significant source of fat and cholesterol, as well as potential human carcinogens.
While all meats are prone to the formation of HCAs, beef seems to result in a greater formation of the carcinogen than either chicken or pork. Though all forms of cooking, even baking and boiling, results in some level of HCA formation, high temperature cooking, including broiling, frying and grilling pose the greatest potential risk, and of these grilling ground beef is of the most concern. In fact, when grilled meat is cooked to the point of char-broiling, it can lead to the formation of something even worse: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). PAHs are the same cancer-causing compounds found in tobacco smoke.
The findings highlight the importance of eating a healthy diet, which means plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a sparing amount of sweets and fats. Unfortunately, it may also mean fewer hamburgers.
So the next time you fire up the grill, you may want to consider a different variety of meats that might include fish or chicken. You could even grill vegetables, which can make for a nice summer meal.
If you have questions for concerns about your diet, speak with your doctor or a dietary expert. For more information about red meat and your health, visit WebMD.com.