The final summer party of the year is here. And for most people that means a barbeque!

If you’ve been reading the Healing Gourmet newsletter for a while, you know how vital it is to choose the healthiest possible meats for your family. Hopefully, you favor grass-fed beef, pastured pork and poultry products. You know that that these foods are loaded with nutrients. They are free from pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones. And the animals were raised ethically and humanely in a clean, natural environment.

Selecting the highest quality meats is vital to your health. But you must also consider how your meats are prepared. In fact, some cooking methods can turn even the healthiest, high quality protein source into a potential carcinogen.

When muscle meats – beef, pork, poultry and fish – are exposed to high temperatures, dangerous cancer-promoting compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) can form. Specifically, HCAs are the byproducts that are created when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) react with creatine (a chemical found in muscles) at high temperature.

Research shows that HCAs increase the risk for several types of cancer, including those of the stomach, colon, prostate, breast and pancreas.

A National Cancer Institute study assessed the diets and cooking habits of 176 people diagnosed with stomach cancer and 503 people without cancer. The researchers found that people who ate their beef medium-well or well-done had more than three times the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate their beef rare or medium-rare.

Another study performed at the University of Hawaii showed a nearly nine-fold increase in colon cancer among people who preferred their meats well-done.

Healthy Grilling to Prevent Heterocyclic Amines

The great news is that you can still enjoy the healthiest meats on the planet, and dramatically reduce or eliminate the formation of HCAs by following a few simple (and delicious) tips:

Tip #1 – Marinate with Antioxidant-Rich Herbs & Spices

Research shows that marinating meat in an antioxidant-rich blend can reduce the formation of HCAs by more than 80 percent. Rosemary and turmeric were found to be the most protective. Cumin, coriander, galangal and Chinese ginger also inhibit HCAs.

Tip #2 – Avoid Frying, Grilling & Broiling Meats

These high-heat cooking methods are those most likely to cause HCAs to form. One study showed a three-fold increase in the content of HCAs when the cooking temperature was increased from 392° to 482°F (200° to 250°C).

  • Grilling Alternative: If you love the flavor of grilled meats, but want to reduce your exposure to HCAs, consider a countertop convection oven. These inexpensive (and indispensable) ovens create a uniform temperature with internal fans that circulate hot air around your food. They allow you to cook at a lower temperature (and in about 25 percent less time!). Plus, there is no direct contact with the heating element. This further helps to guard against the formation of HCAs. In our household, we use our convection oven daily to turn out juicy strip steaks, burgers, pork chops and salmon fillets with all that great grilled flavor… and none of the HCAs
  • Frying Alternative: If you enjoy the crispy the texture of fried meats, like pork chops, fish or chicken breast, forgo the deep fryer and try this instead: Dredge your meat in egg wash and cover in grain-free or paleo panko bread crumbs. Drop it into a cast-iron skillet on medium-high, with a shallow covering of healthy high-heat cooking oil (such as coconut oil). Sizzle each side just long enough to get the crispy texture you like. Then finish your meats by baking them on a pan in the oven, around 325 F, to your desired doneness.

Tip #3 – Opt for Slow & Low Techniques as Your #1 Method

Stewing, boiling, poaching and slow-cooking are done at or below 212°F (100°C). Cooking with these low-temperature methods helps to prevent the formation of HCAs. Plus you can create delicious broths and gravies at the same time (see tip below). The easiest way to cook “slow and low” is by using an old-fashioned slow cooker. Pulled pork carnitas, pot roast, and the French favorites coq au vin and beef bourguignon are a few of my go-to slow-cooker recipes.

Tip #4 – Roast Meats, but Don’t Make Pan Gravy

Because oven roasting and baking are done at lower temperatures, lower levels of HCAs are likely to form. However, the meat drippings do contain substantial amounts of HCAs. Avoid using the drippings as au jus or sauce base. Instead, simply reduce one cup of stock from a grass-fed, slow cooked roast, and whisk in 1 tsp. of arrowroot powder to thicken. Season to taste.

Tip #5 – Enjoy Protective Foods

A number of foods have been found to provide powerful protection against HCA damage to cells. These foods include garlic, the cruciferous family of vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, etc.), and foods rich in flavonoids such as berries, green tea, citrus fruits, apples, onions and red wine. Pair your meats with a glass of organic red wine and a side of broccoli for added protection against HCAs.

Tip #6 – Add Cherries to Your Burgers

Adding organic cherries not only kicks up the flavor in grass-fed burgers, but guards against free radical damage too. Researchers at Michigan State University found that adding cherries to ground meat prior to cooking reduced cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by up to 78%!

So, go ahead and enjoy a well-marinated, grass-fed steak or juicy spiced burger this Labor Day. And pair it with a healthy helping of lightly sautéed broccoli and glass of your favorite organic red wine. You’ll round out the meal while helping to prevent and counteract harmful carcinogens.