25 Jul How to Properly Prepare Animal Protein
Following on from the excellent blog last week from my colleague and friend Adrian, I would love to share with you my thoughts on the ‘protein debate’, and share some tips on how to prepare animal protein to mitigate some of the potential risks of cooking with these wonderful foods.
While research indicates that high protein diets can be detrimental to long term health, this risk appears to disappear if a high protein diet utilises vegetable protein sources. This finding implies 2 important points. The first is that protein as a component of our diet is not ‘bad’ per se, and is in fact critical for the function of every cell in our body. The second point is that as the risks associated with poor health do not come from the protein component of meat itself, it must therefore come either from 1) some other chemical in meat, or 2) a chemical that is produced when you cook/prepare meat. Of course vegetable protein sources such as lentils and pulses are amazing foods and they should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, but I want to explore why meat may contribute to poor health and what we can do to mitigate this risk.
Other chemicals in meat
This was explored in Adrian’s blog last week, and is very much linked to how the animal was raised. If you feed animals food which they do not normally eat (grains, genetically modified foods), they will suffer inflammation and live poor quality lives, providing poor quality protein. If you pump antibiotics into these animals they will grow faster and make more eggs but when you eat them they will kill off your own gut bacteria and cause a problem in humans known as mitochondrial dysfunction, where your cells engine, the mitochondria, can’t make energy properly. Mitochondrial dysfunction is now implicated in most chronic diseases and ageing, as is the destruction of our beneficial gut bacteria by anti-biotic residues in meat. Add to this other chemicals such as nitrates and preservatives in bacon and other processed meats, and we can begin to see that the QUALITY of the meat we eat (buying organic, anti-biotic free, grass fed, wild caught, etc..) and avoiding processed meats (bacon, ham, salami, pressed meats, smoked meats, etc..) becomes so critically important. While buying hormone free meat is essential, the continuing and often sneaky use of ANTI-BIOTICS despite some government restrictions is in my view a crime against all Australians, and we need to continue our stance against this.
Part of the reason why meat protein is linked to cancer is the way we prepare it. Frying or barbequing meat for example creates smoke which generates cancer causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be transferred directly to the meat. Cooking at high temperatures (including grilling, broiling, frying etc) generates chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are also linked to cancer. In terms of HCA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and avoid eating any blackened sections.
Here are some tips on minimising PAHs and HCAs:
- Past research also showed that marinating steak in red wine or beer for six hours before cooking cut levels of two types of HCAs by up to 90 percent.
- Making your own marinade or rub ingredients like herbs, spices, lemon juice, vinegar also cuts down on carcinogen production. AVOID SUGAR in these marinades (such as tomato or BBQ sauce or pre-prepared marinades), as the sugar will increase the production of inflammatory Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGE’s). Try adding foods such as turmeric, garlic, onions, oregano, paprika, black pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, mustard, cider vinegar, lemon/lime juice, olive oil and rosemary to make your own tasty marinades instead.
- You can reduce the amount of PAHs when you grill by not cooking fatty meats, and by trimming the fat off before you grill.
- Cook meat partially before putting it on the grill, or cook smaller pieces of meat, which take less time to cook, and therefore give HCAs less time to form.
- Add blueberries or cherries to your burgers, as they can also help prevent the formation of HCAs. Cherries appear to be particularly effective, with research by food scientist J. Ian Gray showing “substituting ground cherries for 11.5 percent of the meat in hamburger reduced the formation of PhIP, the principal heterocyclic amine that forms when this meat cooks. The cherry burger had about 10 percent of the amount of PhIP in a pure grilled hamburger.”
- Adjust your cooking temperature, even when using your oven. Increasing oven temperature from 200C to 250C may triple the amount of HCAs created in beef.
- Avoid grilling hot dogs, bratwurst, and other processed meats, as these seem to be among the worst offenders.
- If grilling chicken, remove the skin prior to cooking, and don’t eat the skin if you do cook it, as it has the highest HCA content.
- Only grill high-quality, organic and grass-fed meats.
- Cook the meat as little as possible — rare or medium-rare at the absolute most. You can also quickly sear the meat on both sides, leaving the inside mostly raw. This gives the illusion that you’re eating cooked meat, with many of the benefits of raw. Remember, with HCAs, the longer the cooking time and the higher the heat, the more HCAs.
- Eat high quality vegetables, salad or fermented foods with your meat, or drink tea (green, black rooibos etc) or red wine with your meal. This increases the amount of antioxidants in your meal and significantly inhibits the mutagenic activity of HCAs.