Is Your Cooking Method Harming Your Health?

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

So you’re careful about choosing the right food, but are you careful about how you cook your food? You probably should be.

We’re not talking about avoiding trans-fats or cooking with less butter. Instead, we’re literally talking about “how you cook your food” in terms of temperature and duration.

The truth is, many cooking methods can actually cause biochemical changes in the food we eat that that negatively affect our health and can literally accelerate the aging process.

Below we’ll look at some common cooking methods to demonstrate our point.

Grilling Produces Cancer Causing Chemicals

When grilling, you’re using extremely high temperatures to cook food (above 500 degrees Fahrenheit). The danger is that toxic chemicals called heterocyclic amines, also known as HCAs, may form and damage DNA, the primary mechanism of cancer.1

Scientists think that HCAs may increase the risk for cancer. For example, eating charred meat frequently is associated with an increased risk of prostate, pancreatic, and colon cancer.2 Also, countries that do a lot of grilling also have higher rates of stomach cancer.3

Baking Accelerates the Aging Process

Simply put, baking isn’t as harmless as you’d probably think. Just like grilling, though, baking has some serious drawbacks. If food is baked at high temperatures, glycation can occur when it's consumed, creating toxins called advanced glycation end products.4

Glycation is when sugar binds to a protein or a fat. This disrupts normal cellular function and can lead to accelerated aging and disease.5

The golden, crispy crust we all love on bread is a clear example of glycation — as is caramelization on roasted vegetables.

The bottom line is that advanced glycation end products may increase inflammation and interfere with blood sugar control.6-7 So it’s certainly best to avoid them as much as you possibly can.

What Cooking Methods Are Safe?

“Slow and low” is the key to safe cooking. What does that mean? It means cooking food at low temperatures for longer periods of time.

Techniques like poaching, steaming, braising, stewing, and slow cooking use less heat than baking or grilling. Utilize them whenever you can.

As a rule of thumb, cook food below 250 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the creation of toxic compounds. Remember, it’s the high heat that produces the toxins, and that’s what you should be avoiding.

If You Have to Grill or Bake...

Look, we get it, grilled food and freshly baked breads taste good and you should be allowed to enjoy them once in a while. The higher risk of cancer becomes a real issue when you eat grilled, charred food too frequently.

So if you have to grill, here’s what we suggest:

  • Wrap food in foil before grilling. The foil creates a barrier between the food and the grill, minimizing the production of HCAs.
  • Marinate meat several hours prior to grilling. Doing so may neutralize harmful toxins. Protective ingredients include rosemary, turmeric, olive oil, and garlic.8-9
  • Steaming or boiling meat prior to grilling reduces cooking time on the grill.
  • Remove portions of any charred meat.
For baking and roasting in an oven, consider the following:

  • Keep the oven at or below 250 degrees if you can.
  • Avoid dry heat. Baking vegetables or meats in dry heat results in more glycation. Baking with liquids helps reduce it.
  • Remove browned or charred portions of the baked food.
Remember, healthy eating isn’t just about picking the right food. It’s also about cooking it safely. Please keep this in mind when preparing your meals!

References:

  1. Mutat Res. 1997 May 12;376(1-2):37-41.
  2. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cooked-meats. Accessed September 6, 2012.
  3. Nutr Cancer. 1998;30(2):158-62.
  4. J Food Sci. 2012 Sep 5. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02912.x.
  5. Nutrients. 2010 Dec;2(12):1247-65.
  6. Invest Clin. 2010 Jun;51(2):257-68.
  7. Diabetes Care. 1993 May;16(5):689-94.
  8. Nutr Cancer. 1999;34(2):147-52.
  9. J Food Sci. 2008 Aug;73(6):T100-5.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since no matter what I do, I am not going to live forever, and my grandparents baked and grilled and roasted their food and yet lived to their 90's without ever getting cancer, I am not going to worry about this.

Anonymous said...

Limiting my intake of oil, I love veg cooked on the Griddle, which is a form of scorching the food. It is so tasty cooked in this way, so is this bad cooking I wonder?

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - It's tasty, but the charring isn't healthy. Wrap the veggies in foil before grilling. It's safer that way. Also, remove any charred parts before eating.

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