Braaiing or switching on the grill to cook your food quickly at a high temperature? Follow these simple steps to keep your meal as healthy as possible.
Cooking makes food more appealing, easier to digest and, quite often, healthier.
But cooking at high temperatures – such as grilling pork sausages in the oven or braaiing a snoek over hot coals – could mean that you’re introducing harmful chemicals to your meal.
Research shows that:
- Cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when muscle meats such as beef, pork, chicken and fish are cooked at high temperatures.
- PAHs are formed when the fat and juices from meat drip onto a hot surface or fire, causing flames and smoke.
- Both PAHs and HCAs are produced when sugar-containing marinades are used on braaiied or grilled meat.
- Cancer-causing compounds are released when cooking oil goes beyond its smoke point (i.e. when the oil starts burning and smoking).
Use the correct oil for the job
One of the most important steps you can take towards a healthier grilled or braaiied meal is to choose an oil that can handle the heat.
A few facts:
- While olive oil is incredibly healthy, it doesn’t have a very high smoke point. This means that it isn’t well suited to grilling or braaiing.
- Although coconut oil has a high smoke point, it does contain high levels of saturated fat – and the jury is still out on exactly how harmful this type of fat is.
- Sunflower oil also has a high smoke point, but this type of oil contains high levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Some of your best options for grilling and braaiing are extra-virgin, cold-pressed canola oil, avocado oil and peanut oil.
Healthy grilling tips
After you’ve selected the correct type of oil, follow this set of rules to reduce the cancer-causing chemicals in your meal:
- Choose leaner cuts of meat.
- Don’t use too much cooking oil (only lightly coat your meat or veggies).
- Don’t use shop-bought or homemade marinades that contain sugar. Flavour meat with herbs, spices and lemon instead.
- Don’t expose meat to open flames.
- Add a layer of foil between meat and/or oiled vegetables and your braai grid. Punch a few holes in the foil.
- Don’t cook meat for too long.
- Salt meat and veggies after braaing or grilling it, as salt can lower the smoke point of oil.
- Remove any charred sections from food before tucking in.
Good to know
Remember that cancer is a complex health condition that cannot be blamed on a single factor such as the cooking method you’re using. If you’re worried about cancer, talk to your doctor about getting the appropriate screening tests done.
Many medical aid schemes in South Africa will cover your doctor’s visits and tests, even if you are on an affordable medical aid of hospital plan. Saving and going for regular check-ups is important. Early detection is key.
By CARINE VISAGIE (for Genesis Medical Scheme)
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