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Marinades Help Keep Grilled Meat Safe

Study found they reduce the amount of cancer-causing compounds

FRIDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- You can have your steak and eat it, too, without producing harmful cancer-causing compounds, new research shows.

As a matter of fact, marinating meat in antioxidant-rich spice blends can reduce the risk of these heterocyclic amines (HCAs) forming by more than 80 percent.

"If you are concerned about carcinogens, marinating a product, and this would be any kind of muscle food product, is a good way to dramatically reduce the formation of HCAs," said study author J. Scott Smith, a professor of food science at Kansas State University. His research was published in the current issue of the Journal of Food Science. "The marinades would have to be rich in spices," Smith added.

And although the researchers didn't specifically check this, Smith suspects that the antioxidants found in red wine and in many fruits and vegetables might also do the trick.

HCAs are "suspected" human carcinogens produced in muscle foods that have been cooked at high temperatures. HCAs are created when heat acts on amino acids and creatinine in animal muscle.

Barbecuing produces the most HCAs, followed by pan-frying and broiling. Baking, poaching, stir-frying and stewing produce the least HCAs.

The researchers tested three different commercial marinade blends (Caribbean, Southwest and herb), purchased from a local grocery store, on fresh eye of round beef steaks.

The steaks (about 3.3 ounces each and one-fifth of an inch thick) were marinated for one hour (turning several times) in one of the blends, then cooked in a skillet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes on each side.

Steaks marinated in the Caribbean blend had an 88 percent decrease in HCA levels. The herb blend reduced HCAs by 72 percent, while the Southwest blend reduced levels by 57 percent.

All the marinade blends contained two or more spices from the mint family, which are rich in the antioxidants rosmarinic acid, carnosol and carnosic acid.

The marinades contained maltodextrin and/or modified starch ingredients or salt that could have played a role in reducing HCA production due to water retention, the authors stated.

"We ate the beefsteaks, and they were edible," said Smith, who added that round steak was not his usual choice of steak. "I use these marinades at home."

The steaks were cooked on an electric skillet, but the results could probably be extrapolated to outside grilling as well. "Actually, a grill runs at higher temp, so the effect probably would be more dramatic," Smith said.

More information

Consumer Reports has more on grilling basics.

Safe Grilling

In addition to marinating meats, there are other ways to reduce HCA risk. James Felton, associate director of the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center, has these suggestions:

  • Cook your meat in the microwave for a minute or so before grilling. This gets the HCAs out of the meat and into the juice, which you should throw out. "Then you can cook it really well done and have no HCAs," Felton said. Precooking a hamburger for a few minutes in the microwave reduces HCAs by up to 95 percent.
  • Reduce the overall temperature by flipping the meat multiple times each minute.
  • Don't cook meat to "well done." Use a meat thermometer and cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 to 180 degrees F, ground beef, pork and lamb to 160 to 170 degrees F, and beef steaks and roasts to 145 to 160 degrees F.
  • Grill vegetables. "Vegetarian cooking on the grill isn't going to give you any of these things," Felton said.

SOURCES: J. Scott Smith, Ph.D., professor, food chemistry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.; James Felton, Ph.D., associate director, University of California, Davis, Cancer Center; Journal of Food Science

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