If you start the summer with this “new smoking,” will you end it with cancer?
If you’re four out of five Americans, warmer weather means breaking out your grill and hosting a party. I’ve been to my first grilled feast of the season myself. But the evening of fun probably put some dangerous toxins and carcinogens in my body.
I haven’t given up this simple pastime, but I only do it a few times year (generally as someone’s guest). Here’s why I’m careful. . .plus ways to reduce the deadly side effects.
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Danger #1: Char
Charred meat increases your risk of stomach, pancreatic, liver, and skin cancer.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The natural compound creatine supplies energy to muscle tissue and nerves. At temperatures above 350 degrees Fahrenheit, amino acids and creatine react, creating dangerous chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
HCAs damage your DNA and increase tumor growth in your colon, prostate, breasts, and lymphatic system. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls them carcinogens.
The charred edges of barbecued meat – the parts everyone fights over – contain HCAs in their purest and most dangerous form. More char equals more cancer-causing HCAs coating your food.
Some say that eating this blackened meat is equivalent to inhaling cigarette smoke.
Danger #2: Smoke
Toxins created at high temperatures inflame your body and damage your cells.
When the amino acids in meat react with its sugars at high temperatures, they form advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) — or glycotoxins. These are the molecules that create the brown color and the food’s distinctive cooked flavor.
Once AGE toxins build up in your body, they “cross-link” your cells together. Cross-linking makes you age faster and contributes to degenerative diseases, including atherosclerosis, kidney disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Since your body cannot easily digest AGEs, they accumulate in your organs and damage your body, according to Dr. William W. Li, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation.
According to the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, AGEs aggravate sticky plaques linked to mental impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. During a nine-month study performed by Dr. Helen Vlassara of the Icahn School of Medicine, AGEs caused significant decline in mental, genetic, and vascular function.
If you want to bolster your body’s natural defense against Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, then eliminate AGEs, says Dr. Vlassara.
Protect your body without sacrificing a food favorite
Research shows a clear link between cancer and cooking over a flame or high heat.
Does this mean you have to leave your grill in the garage collecting cobwebs? Not necessarily.
These guidelines will let you enjoy grilled food while protecting you and your family from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Grill at low temperatures, over indirect heat. HCAs triple when you increase your cooking temperature from 392 degrees to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid frying, broiling, and barbecuing meat. Stew, boil, poach, oven roast, or bake it instead.
2. Reduce your cooking time. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, eating medium-well or well-done beef triples your risk of stomach cancer. Try eating your next hamburger or steak rare or medium-rare. Use organically grown grass-fed beef to reduce the heavily-touted risks of microbes in “undercooked” meat.
If you can’t stomach rare meat, reduce cooking time by buying thinner cuts of meat. You can also pre-cook meat using another cooking method, and finish it on the grill.
3. Cut meat into cubes and cook kabobs to further reduce your cooking time and temperature.
4. Flip meat every one to two minutes to prevent charring.
5. Eat organic, grass-fed beef and poultry. The lower fat content means fewer drippings. This means less smoke and fewer PAHs. Plus, organically grown animals aren’t fed GMO grain, and their meat boasts higher levels of good omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef should always be cooked at lower temperatures than conventional meat.
6. Try grilling other types of meat. Eating barbecued red meat doubles your risk of developing colon polyps, which can develop into colon cancer. Plus, eating beef more than three times a week doubles your risk of stomach cancer. Cut back on red meat and grill more fish.
7. Use marinades and rubs generously. Thick marinades add flavor, prevent toxins from forming, and protect against charring. Kansas State University and the Food Science Institute found that Caribbean marinades cut HCAs by 88 percent. Herb marinades cut HCAs by 72 percent, and southwestern rubs cut HCAs by 57 percent.
According to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, two hours soaking in beer, wine, lemon, or vinegar creates an “invisible shield” against HCAs and PAHs. Rosemary cuts HCA levels by up to 100 percent. Basil, mint, sage, and oregano offer similar benefits.
Avoid sugary marinades – like barbecue sauce – since these burn easily. Marinate your meat in the refrigerator to ward off bacteria. If you plan to use extra marinade as sauce, boil it for three minutes to kill bacteria.
8. Grill vegetables and fruit. Enjoy grill lines and char marks on vegetables and fruits without any harmful HCAs. Try asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, onions, Portobello mushrooms, pineapples, and mangoes. This protects you from HCAs and loads your meal with nutrients and vitamins. At the party I mentioned earlier, I had some delicious grilled fresh pineapple and asparagus.
9. Use foil to prevent drippings from hitting the coals. Minimizing smoke from your grill will reduce the PAHs in your lungs and on your food.
10. Remove the skin from meat before cooking to reduce drippings and grill marks.
11. Eat cruciferous vegetables — such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage – to heal DNA damage. These vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane that helps your body flush DNA-damaging compounds.
12. Cut off charred spots on your meat before you eat it.
13. Scrape residue off your grill every time you use it to prevent build-up. After cleaning your grill, oil it to keep food from sticking and charring.
14. Use hardwood chips (like hickory and maple), which burn cooler than softwoods (like pine and fir). Use charcoal briquettes, which also burn at lower temperatures.
15. Don’t huddle around your grill and inhale the smoke.
Follow at least a few of these simple guidelines to reduce your risk. Along with the other lifestyle choices you already know, like losing weight, exercising, and so on. I don’t think an occasional grilled feast is going to send you to the chemo room, but frequent indulgence just might.
Last issue we talked about the opposite subject – the most healthy foods you can possibly eat. If you missed it, we’re running it again just below.