Grilling is a national past time over the summer months, especially in the Southern states. You may have read somewhere along the internet highway of nutrition information that consuming charred, grilled foods is bad for your health. Let’s take a closer examination as to why the internet is telling us to stop eating grilled foods.
Is Grilled Food Bad For Me?
Inside Those Grill Marks
Cooking foods too a high temperature and creating charred marks can create molecules in the food called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are found in many different food products, but typically are higher in foods that are pre-packaged, and foods cooked to high temperatures.
What Do AGEs do?
In the body, AGEs have been observed to alter protein structures, damage tissue building, and act as a free radical causing inflammation in the body. They have a cumulative effect; we have biological systems to help us break down and eliminate some of these molecules, but at some point, they exceed the level at which our body can eliminate them in a timely way. They then spend more time in our system, and may potentially cause damage. AGEs are currently being studied for their possible correlations with kidney disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
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Should I Stop Eating Grilled Foods?
There are some extreme views out there that say cooking food to high temperatures, or even at all, results in damage to our health and we should avoid it altogether. But cooking and grilling food is a joyful experience, enhancing the texture, flavor, and aroma of what we’re eating. Furthermore, some foods require cooking for optimal digestion. Here are some more balanced approaches to mitigate the potential risks of AGE consumption.
1) Cook food slightly longer, at a slightly lower temperature. Instead of high heat for 10 minutes, go with medium heat for 12-15. Better yet, go exploring for some new slow cooker or instant pot recipes. Moist heat cooking methods (braising, boiling, poaching) will also reduce AGE formation.
2) Eat smaller portions of grilled, charred food. As mentioned above, the body is able to eliminate AGEs through natural biological systems, provided we don’t overload on them. A typical serving of grilled protein or veggies would be just about the size of your palm (not including fingers).
3) Reduce the amount of processed, prepackaged snacks you eat. This doesn’t mean throwing out all your protein bars, granola, and cereal! But many packaged snack products are prepared with high-heat technology to reduce risk of pathogens and improve shelf stability. This high heat can increase the amount of AGEs in packaged food. Stick to portion sizes of packaged products and increase the amount of food you make at home!
4) Get your fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant-based fats. Getting a healthy dose of antioxidants alongside your grilled entree may help reduce some of the free radical activity of AGEs. Vitamin E works to counteract the exact form of free radical damage AGEs cause. Excellent sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, spinach, swiss chard, and asparagus.
Enjoy grilling season, but enjoy it responsibly!