Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are mutagenic carcinogens formed when muscle meat, such as beef, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling over an open flame.
HCAs form when amino acids (protein), sugars, and creatine react under high heat in the animal flesh. When animal fat or juice drops on coals and burns, PAHs rise in the smoke and adhere to the surface of the meat. So even if you are opting for a meat-free alternative like a veggie burger, by putting it on the same grill, you are indirectly coating your veggie burger in PAHs when other meat is cooked on the same grill.
So how can you protect yourself from exposure to these harmful HCAs and PAHs? Here are some steps you can take the next time you choose to prepare meat:
• Coat your meat in an acidic marinade. Examples are lemon juice, OJ, and vinegar (no oil) or garlic, soy sauce, and ginger. Marinate red meat up to 24 hours and fish and fowl up to 2 hours. Create two batches- one to marinate and one to baste!
• Add FRESH rosemary. Rosemary is a super powerful antioxidant when it comes to combating the toxicity of HCAs. Other fresh herbs to use include basil, oregano, thyme, and blueberries!
• Microwave meat 30-90 seconds before cooking- can decrease HCAs by 90%.
• Keep the meat moist. Continuously baste the meat as it cooks. The drier the meat, the more HCAs.
• Opt for boiling, steaming, or poaching over roasting, stir frying, and grilling.
• When grilling, flip frequently, keeping the surface area cool.
• Avoid eating the pan drippings (concentrated HCAs and PAHs) AKA: gravy!!
• Opt for seafood but do NOT char.
• Minimize your meat consumption. Center your diet around whole foods, predominately from plants :)