The news seems intent on telling you that meat can kill you. This is how to do it right.
If you follow mainstream health news over the last few years, or watch any of the latest string of pseudo-scientific Netflix documentaries promoting veganism you probably think that meat is a public health hazard on par with opioids and asbestos. The fact is, once you get past the click-bait headlines, the news isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Many of these outlets use a study conducted by the World Health Organization that put processed meat in the same cancer-causing class as smoking. The first thing to know about this study is that the evidence was focused on processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, and bologna. This was not a study of organic free-range chicken breasts, line-caught tilapia, and grass-fed ribeyes. (Not to mention, the people who eat a lot of processed meats are probably not particularly health-conscious in other aspects of their lives.) Secondly, being in the same class as cigarettes means that scientists are equally as certain of the fact that processed meat causes cancer as they are about smoking. It does not mean that eating meat carries the same cancer risk as being a smoker.
Eating meat does present a cancer risk, though, even if it is sometimes overstated While many feel that cutting out meat carries its own set of risks (such as the type-II diabetes, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disease associated with the potential weight gain of a high-carb diet,) there are several ways to have your steak and eat it too.
Harsh forms of cooking such as pan-frying, searing, deep frying, and grilling over open flame tend to increase the production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are linked to many of the forms of cancer cited in the WHO study (namely colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.) Cooking at temperatures under 300 degrees, such as braising, baking, poaching, and using a pressure-cooker or crockpot, minimizes the formation of HCAs.
Marinate Your Meat
Almost any liquid will help reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds formed during high heat. Olive oil, soy sauce, stock, vinegar, coffee, yogurt, teriyaki sauce, coconut milk, or any combination will do the trick. Some research suggests that antioxidant-rich herbs such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, paprika, and various peppers can also inhibit formation of toxins. One study found that marinating chicken with honey was very effective at blocking the formation of HCAs.
Grill it Rare
When you do sear a steak, cook it on the rare side. Not only do professional chefs recommend it that way, but a study published in the journal Mutation Research found that people who ate their meat well done had almost nine times the risk of colorectal cancer as those who ate their meat rare. A review of several different studies, published in Nutrition and Cancer, found an association of multiple different cancers with well done meat.
Use the Right Oil
If you pan-fry meat or spray your grill, stay away from using seed oils. A number of animal studies show that the combination of heme iron, which is found in meat, and seed-based oils can create a cancer-promoting environment in the colon of rats. The culprit seems to be the heavy presence of polyunsaturated fatty acids in oils such as sunflower, safflower, rapeseed, soybean, and corn, as well as generic vegetable oil and Canola oil, which are typically made from some combination of seed oils. Research shows that coconut oil and avocado oil, which are both terrific for cooking with high heat and low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, did not produce this same cancer-causing effect.
Eat Your Steak With Greens
When you just have to have a steak seared in a cast-iron pan or over hot coals, be sure to have a big helping of green vegetables with it. (Just have a big helping of vegetables with everything.) A study published in the journal Carcinogenesis found that cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and bok choy, reduce the formation of HCAs in charred meat. Further research from the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology showed that broccoli was protective against a number of potentially cancer-causing substances produced in cooked meat.
Have a Glass of Wine
This is by no means mandatory, but if you do plan to have a drink with your steak, make it red wine. Why? Some carcinogens are produced in the gut when red meat is digested. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that polyphenol-rich foods such as red wine reduces the amount of disease-producing substances that are formed in the digestive tract. And it doesn’t have to be wine. Coffee, tea, berries, dark chocolate, and many vegetables are also loaded with polyphenols.