Cooks will love this. Researchers have found that cooking with spices before putting burgers on the grill can may prevent cancer that we’ve all heard is associated with cooking beef.
Scientists at Kansas State University, a leader in the area of food safety research and training, identified three spices, fingerroot (Chinese ginger), rosemary and tumeric, as being able to direct the greatest amount of antioxidant activity to preventing the formation of HCAs (heterocyclic amines), the cancer causers created when meats are barbecued, grilled, fried or broiled.
The team, supported by the Food Safety Consortium, evaluated six different spices; cumin, coriander seeds, fingerroot, galagal, rosemary and tumeric. Of these, fingerroot, rosemary and tumeric (all packed with antioxidants, by the way) can limit the amount of HCAs that form on your meat.
Rosemary was the strongest against HCA with a commercial extract available that brings numbers into the 61-79% range. This cuts the risk that comes from the HCA-associated with many cancers; colorectal, lung, mammary, pancreatic, prostate and stomach to name a few.
It appears that beef develops more HCAs than either chicken or pork according to KSU food chemistry professor J. Scott Smith. In recent years Smith has worked on projects looking for ways to cut HCAs. Those cooked beef patties we all love, that are so much a part of our summertime meals are also the cooked meat that has the highest mutagenic activity and is the most significant source of HCAs in your diet.
With grilling season almost upon us, there’s never been a better time to make spices part of your summertime cooking, whenever you can. The great thing about adding spices is that they make the meat able to stand up to the high temperature cooking (above 352 degrees F) yet block the increased HCA production that comes with intense flames.
Earlier work has shown that meat cooked under the 352-degree mark for under four minutes has low or undectable levels of HCAs, the compounds increasing as temperature and cooking times go up.
Besides adding flavor, spices will help you use less salt, another plus for your heart, and your health.
To be sure you’re handling meats and other foods safely, here are some important tips:
- Come straight home from the grocery store to keep food as cool as possible, put meats and dairy in the cart last at the store.
- Put meats and poultry in the fridge right away when you get home, Freeze chicken and ground beef that won’t be used in the next 1 to 2 days, 4 to 5 days for other cuts of meat.
- Completely thaw meat and poultry before you cook. You can do this in the fridge overnight or you can thaw sealed packages in cold water. Once thawed, don’t take meats out of the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. Using the microwave defrost program is great so long as the meat will then go right on the grill.
- Marinate meats in the fridge, not on the counter. Poultry, cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days; beef, veal, pork, lamb roasts, chops and steaks can be marinated up to 5 days. Don’t use the leftover marinade as a sauce as it could contain harmful bacteria picked up from the raw meat; instead reserve a portion of the marinade beforehand for use this way.
- Keep food cold at home, or if you’re taking something to another location, use an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs to keep the temperature at 40 degrees F or lower. Pack meats right from the fridge to the cooler just before you leave home.
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Some Spices Cut Cancer Risk… Continued…
- Keep plenty of clean utensils and platters on hand, and be sure NEVER to use the same platter/utensils for raw and cooked meat or poultry.
- Cook foods to a safe, minimum internal temperature to completely kill any harmful bacteria. Don’t be fooled by a browned outside, use a meat thermometer to be sure its cooked on the inside.
- Keep hot foods hot, at least 140 degrees F. You can move things off to the side of the grill or place them in an oven set to 200 degrees F.
- In hot weather (over 90 degrees F) food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour. Refrigerate any leftovers right away; throw away anything left out for longer than two hours no matter what the temperature outside.
The KSU team will next be looking at other marinades and powders to be used on meats; earlier research has found that marinating steaks with some herbs and spices lowers HCA production. In the meantime, enjoy cooking with spices – you may well be helping to prevent cancer as you enjoy a delicious meal.