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Cooking with the grill and BBQ

Not everything that is traditional is healthy, for example, cooking on a grill is the most ancient method of cooking, but it presents risks that should not be underestimated.
Especially meat, cooked at high temperatures, can form carcinogenic substances harmful to one's health.

The burnt parts

First of all there are heterocyclic amines (HCAs), due to the modification in the chemical structure of amino acids (proteins) and creatine occurring at very high temperatures, such as those of the BBQ that can reach even 1000°C. Animal origin foods are rich in amino acids and creatine, and for this reason HCAs have been identified in beef, pork, chicken and fish cooked on the grill, especially in the external and slightly burnt parts.

Furthermore, the dark crust that forms in all foods cooked on the grill or in the oven or on open flame (such as the Catalan cream), is rich of advanced glycation end products (dAGEs), substances that studies have associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and kidney deficiency.
The dAGEs form from the chemical reaction between sugars and proteins cooked at temperatures higher than 200°C.

Dripping fat

Other dangerous substances are the Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are freed when the food fat, of which meats are rich, drip and burn on the grill, creating smoke. It is exactly that type of smoke that, enveloping the food, covers it with these toxic compounds.
According to studies, both the HCAs and the PHAs are connected to a 60% increased risk of developing various types of stomach, breast, prostate and colon cancers. 

Does this mean we have to give up on the Sunday barbecues with friends? 
No, to give up entirely is never a wise solution. Experts suggest that it is enough precaution limiting this type of cooking to one to three times a month and taking some appropriate precautionary measures.

10 Practical rules for healthy grilling

1. Carefully clean the grill with a metallic brush: burnt residue from previous grilling would otherwise stick to the new food, altering its characteristics and safety.

2. Try to ensure the least possible contact with the searing cooking surface and the food: better to use thin grill grates or slotted grill plates.

3. Choose leaner foods: rather than meats rich in fat such as pork chops or sausages, it is better to cook vegetables, lean meats, fish and seafood. The leanest fish (cod, sole, mullet, sea bass, gilthead bream, and so on. produce fewer toxic amines during the grilling process.

4. Clean the meat: Remove visible fat and remove the skin from chicken.

5. Marinate meat and fish for half an hour with spices and herbs: pepper, thyme, sage, garlic and rosemary and especially lemon juice, as they effectively protect the food from harmful substances.

6. Avoid any formation of crispy crusts, limit cooking times: this will reduce the possibility that the food will burn.
You can pre-cook the food for a few minutes in the microwave, oven or pan before grilling, and if the food is frozen, it is best to bring them to room temperature carefully and over time.

7. Keep the fat from dripping over the coals or fire to prevent smoke: use a specially perforated aluminum foil as protection between the grill and the food.

8. Do not puncture the meat to prevent the loss of liquid: it's better to use spatulas or tongs to turn the food.
For the same reason it is better not to sprinkle salt when cooking.

9. Do not reach temperatures that are too high: remove the food from the fire before it burns, even partially, and lower the temperature.
In case of the grill, set it about 15 centimeters from the source of heat.

10. Do not eat the part of the food that is clearly burned: eliminate the parts blackened by the fire.

A further step to take to help protect against the risks of barbecuing is to choose wisely the side dishes and drinks: it is important to drink plenty of water and limit alcohol (one or two glasses of wine per meal) and accompany these moments of celebration with fresh foods rich in fiber and antioxidants, like our beloved vegetables.
Zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and many types of tomatoes can gain the typical smoked taste with a few minutes of grilling, while lettuce, carrots and other vegetables can accompany the meal in all their freshness.

 

The contents of this article are in accordance with the parameters set out by the European Food Safety Authority - EFSA.