One million years ago, early man learned to control the use of fire. It was the most important step in the advancement of human civilization. Our ability to control fire provided us with warmth… and a level of nourishment unavailable on a raw diet.
It said that fire is what makes us human…
And when you consider the role cooking has played in the development of the human brain, this statement is quite literally true. In fact, cooking is what made you so smart. As an article in Smithsonian Magazine states,
“Cooking – not only heat but also mechanical processes such as chopping and grinding—outsources some of the body’s work of digestion. So more energy is extracted from food and less expended in processing it.”
Cooking allowed us to break down connective tissues in meat and soften the cell walls of plants. It was this ability to unlock nutrients and increase caloric consumption that fueled the growth of our brains. It is our ability to cook that makes us who we are.
There are also many modern health benefits to be gained from putting food to flame…
Some nutrients (especially fat-soluble compounds) are supercharged by cooking. These nutrients deliver their most powerful punch when sautéed in a stir-fry or simmered in a savory sauce. One tasty example includes the lycopene-rich tomatoes in a hearty Bolognese!
But like all good things, there is a yin to the yang…
The Flame: Foe to Your Health
Not only can heat diminish the power of certain nutrients, in can also create harmful chemicals in your food that were not there before cooking. These chemicals can promote cancer, inflammation, accelerated aging and metabolic dysfunction.
And while most of the nutritional advice you hear focuses on the foods to eat (and those you should avoid)… when it comes to your health, how you COOK your foods can be just as important as what types of food you’re eating.
In fact, many of the ill-effects we experience with our health and rising rates of chronic disease are directly influenced by how we cook our food.
The great news is that I want to share with you the tools, techniques and guidelines you need to know, so you can maximize the health benefits and nutrients in your food… while avoiding health-harming, cancer-causing compounds.
Over the next several weeks in the US Wellness Meats Newsletter, I will show you how to avoid…
The “Fiery Foursome” – 4 Most Destructive Cooking Byproducts
There are four primary health-harming compounds that can form when cooking foods with high heat:
- Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs)
- Lipid Oxidation Products (LOPs)
- Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs)
These compounds are fuel for chronic disease. And all of them together carry serious wrath, so it pays to put a damper on these burner bandits!
In future articles, we’ll cover the last three. Today’s topic is…
Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs)
If you like your steak grilled to well done, I have some unappetizing news: You’re being exposed to dangerous carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These compounds are formed when muscle meats – beef, pork, poultry and fish – are exposed to high temperatures.
Specifically, these harmful byproducts y are the result of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) reacting at high temperatures.
And recent research shows that HCAs increase the risk for several types of cancer including stomach cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
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 those who ate their beef well-done had more than three times the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate their beef rare or medium-rare.
The good news is that these compounds can be significantly reduced or eliminated with proper preparation and cooking methods. Here are some…
Simple Tips to Reduce the Formation of HCAs
- Reduce Frying, Grilling & Broiling Meats: These high-heat cooking methods are those most likely to cause HCAs to form. In fact, one study showed a threefold increase in the content of HCAs when the cooking temperature was increased from 392° to 482°F (200° to 250°C).
- Opt for Slow & Low Techniques as Your #1 Method: Stewing, boiling, poaching, pressure cooking and slow-cooking are done much lower temperatures around or below 212°F (100°C). Cooking at this low temperature creates negligible amounts of HCAs.
- Roast Meats, But Don’t Make 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. Those drippings can be delicious! But consider the potential implications to your health (and avoid especially when overcooked).
- Marinate with Antioxidant-Rich Herbs & Spices: Research shows that marinating meat in an antioxidant-rich blend can reduce the risk of HCAs forming by more than 80 percent. Try rosemary and turmeric—two high antioxidant, high flavor additions.
- Get Fruity: Adding cherries to burger meat (12% of the total burger) reduced the formation of HCAs by 70%.
The best way to reduce your consumption of these damaging compounds is to opt for pressure cooking or low-and-slow cooking methods, like simmering and slow cooking. If you love grilled meat, then by all means enjoy it every now and then… but watch out for those charred parts and overcooking. The consequences can be real… and a lot more lasting than the enjoyment of a juicy bite of steak.
And stay tuned for the next installment, where I’ll show you how to protect yourself and your family from dangerous compounds in your food so you can cook safely… and deliciously!
Need a little help planning your keto-friendly holiday spread? Kelley has put together a free guide – Keto Holidays – that will help you keep the joy and delight in your holiday meals… while leaving the unwanted carbs aside. Inside, you’ll find 20+ keto-friendly recipes (including each one mentioned in the article above), all nutritionally analyzed and containing 5 grams of net carbs (or less!). Grab your free copy here…
- Felton JS, Knize MG, Salmon CP, Malfatti MA, Kulp KS. Human exposure to heterocyclic amine food mutagens/carcinogens: relevance to breast cancer. Environ Mol Mutagen 2002;39(2-3):112-8.
- Smith, J. S., Tsen, S. Y. Effects of rosemary extracts on the reduction of heterocyclic amines in cooked beef patties. Abstract #1300-14, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, February 27-March 4, 2005, Orlando, FL.
- Adamson RH, Thorgeirsson UP. Carcinogens in foods: Heterocyclic amines and cancer and heart disease. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 1995; 369:211-220.
- Bjeldanes LF, Morris MM, Felton JS, et al. Mutagens from the cooking of food. II. Survey by Ames/Salmonella test of mutagen formation in the major protein-rich foods of the American diet. Food and Chemical Toxicology 1982; 20(4):357-363.
- Dolara P, Commoner B, Vithayathil A, et al. The effect of temperature on the formation of mutagens in heated beef stock and cooked ground beef. Mutation Research 1979; 60(3):231-237.
- Felton JS, Fultz E, Dolbeare FA, Knize MG. Effect of microwave pretreatment on heterocyclic aromatic amine mutagens/carcinogens in fried beef patties. Food Chemical Toxicology 1994; 32 (10):897-903.
- Felton JS, Knize MG, Shen NH, et al. Identification of the mutagens in cooked beef.Environmental Health Perspectives 1986; 67:17-24