A healthier alternative to your typical “dry fried” steak may reside in a beer can. Marinating red meat in beer for several hours before cooking helps decrease levels of cancer-causing compounds commonly found in fried meats—a technique that could make a lot of meat and beer lovers very happy.
Gone are the days of the guilt-free barbeque, and for good reason: meat (including chicken and fish) exposed to high-temperature cooking conditions form a host of carcinogenic by-products called heterocyclic aromatic amines, or HAs. Studies have linked increased HA consumption with greater risks of several types of cancer, including colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Because of this, health experts recommend limiting foods with high HA levels.
Pop open a cold one to halt HAs
A team of Portuguese researchers recently compared the HA content of pan fried, unmarinated beef with that of beef marinated in wine or beer, in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The meat was cooked directly on a nonstick pan with no oil at 375°F for four minutes on each side.
HA contents of meat marinated in beer or wine were up to 88% lower than that of unmarinated meat. Beer was slightly superior to wine as a marinade as it significantly reduced all tested HA levels and preserved the best meat flavor. Marinating meat for longer periods (up to six hours) helped further decrease some HA levels.
Make your meats healthier
Since grilling (or barbequing), broiling, and pan frying cause more HAs to form, there are, fortunately for meat lovers, plenty of healthy prepping and cooking options:
• Marinate: Marinating meat has been shown to decrease HA production. Experiment with mixtures of vinegar, vegetable oils, and herbs. And, given the new study, try one made with your favorite beer.
• Cool it down: Use lower temperatures for cooking meats (300° to 325°F) and cook further away from the heat source (that is, not over an open flame or in direct contact with the pan). Reduce the amount of HAs in food by upping the moisture content of the meat. Use oil or water to minimize contact with the cooking surface.
• Choose your method wisely: Opt for cooking methods that reduce HA formation. Stewing, simmering, and braising are the best choices; roasting and baking are also good. Boiling or steaming are good options, as with chicken soup or fish wrapped in foil.
• Don’t overcook: Avoid eating char-broiled meat, chicken, or fish. If you grill, consider partially cooking your pre-marinaded meat in the microwave and finishing it on the grill.
• Cut off the bad bits: Remove the browned or blackened portions of meat and chicken, as this is where these toxic compounds reside in greatest quantity.
• Go veggie: It is the chemical reactions between animal protein and heat that cause HAs to form upon cooking. Vegetables don’t share this trait, though, so grill them up and enjoy guilt-free.
(J Agric Food Chem 2008;56:10625–32)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
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