Spicing up your BBQ fare is more than palate pleasing

© Demid | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Demid | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

If you’re a BBQ aficionado,  likely this past weekend marked the start of your grilling season.  But as there can be some downsides to eating grilled  food, practicing BBQ  smarts is a wise idea. And one way is to spice it up.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, University of California scientists found that adding spices like rosemary and oregano to a hamburger mix before cooking decreased the production and absorption of some potentially harmful chemicals when compared to eating unseasoned burgers.

Research shows that high temperature cooking can produce a slew of potentially damaging compounds with a range of effects. In this study, the scientists assessed a substance (malondialdehyde) which is known to enhance oxidation and inflammation.

Both oxidation and inflammation are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. For example, cholesterol that is oxidized is more easily deposited in arteries. And inflamed arteries are even more welcoming to this cholesterol.

Other researchers found adding red wine to turkey before grilling also reduced the amount of this damaging substance. But you don’t need to stick to rosemary, oregano and red wine. The scientists chose these herbs as they’re chock full of compounds called polyphenols. Rather than using polyphenols-rich East Indian spices and herbs which they knew had a beneficial effect, they tested the Mediterranean choices as they thought these flavours would be more acceptable to the palates of the subjects.

But no doubt you have long heard that grilling assorted foods is far superior  than using cooking techniques like frying. Allowing fat to drip off during the preparations rids the food of much fat. But if you’re doing it amid fierce flames, which fat drippings will often cause, the fare may not be as healthy as you think.

Charred fare that has been engulfed by smoke is also laced with a number of potential cancer-causing compounds. Heterocyclic amines(HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are among those that have been linked to an increased risk of  cancers such as colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer.

Using marinades beforehand is another way to reduce the amount of a range of substances like HCAs and AGEs. German researchers looked at marinades containing garlic, onion, and lemon juice on the formation of HCAs and found that with increasing amounts of garlic, HCA production was decreased.  And if garlic breath is a concern, be sure to include some antioxidant-rich parsley which can counter the effect.

You might consider having some tabbouleh – the cracked wheat salad that’s packed with herbs like parsley.  And at the same time, using marinades and spices can help to reduce the amount of salt you use in your food– a definite health perk.

High temperature cooking also produced other potential disease-causing compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).  These substances have not received much attention outside of scientific circles but more and more research is labeling them as culprits in the development of diseases like diabetes and major players in the progression of chronic illnesses like heart and kidney disease.  A French study, also  published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared foods prepared using steam versus those cooked at high temperatures and found that the high temperature cooking was linked to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and a higher risk of diabetes.

Coming up next: grilling tips for delicious and healthier fare.

What’s your favourite food to grill? Are you adventurous or do you stick to the basics such as burgers and steaks?

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Categories: Food Safety, Food Trends, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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