The BBQ Dilemma

Prevent aging with healthy BBQ techniques

Summer BBQ’s – we love them! Quick, easy, and delicious for family or more social summer evenings. But did you know that BBQ’s can contribute to cellular aging and inflammation? We’ve got great tips to help reduce the damage that your lovely summer BBQ can have.

What’s the problem?

Foods that are cooked a certain way tend to develop chemicals that form in the food. These are called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These form when juices and fat drip onto the fire causing smoke and flames. The smoke, which contains these compounds, sticks to the surface of the meat. These nasties are also found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes – but we wouldn’t think to associate our BBQ with those would we!?

These chemical compounds are also known as Advanced Glycation End products (AGE) and can also form in the body when we eat processed foods that have been overheated and cooked dry, like cereal, crackers, cookies, baked goods. Once these compounds are in the body, AGE can contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. Net result = aging faster. If predisposed, AGE can also lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, and metabolic issues like diabetes. We do have the ability to detoxify these compounds, but they can accumulate if our diet is particularly high in them.

How do they occur?

In our food, they are formed when foods are cooked at high temperatures. When foods that are exposed to dry heat – BBQ, grill, roasting, frying in high temperatures. The foods that are most likely to form AGE in the body are red meats, cheese, baked goods, and highly processed foods – if you have a plate that is largely beige to brown in colour, it’s likely high in AGE.

What you can do to reduce exposure

Modern diets, with a focus on convenience tend to be high in AGE’s. Think about all the foods you eat each day that might be rich in AGE and form AGE when cooked – toast, toasted muesli, grilled cheese, fried or roasted meat, fried eggs, bakery food. Without realising these things might sneak in more often than we think when life is busy, and we are just doing what’s easy and quick.

When you’re planning a balmy summer eve, utilise these easy steps to up-level your BBQ to a healthier version.

  • Add a salad! If you do decide to eat BBQ or foods cooked in dry heat, consider having other food that is rich in colourful antioxidants. A good serving of salad will provide phytonutrients and fibre and help to counter the effects of the AGE
  • Marinate the meat! As well as taste great, marinades have been shown to inhibit the amount of heterocyclic amines produced in cooking. The antioxidants found within ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, herbs and spices, and good quality oils have a positive impact on the dry cooking of the meat through BBQ or grilling
  • Cut off excess fat and avoid the blackened parts of the meat
  • Cook at a lower temperature or have your red meat more rare/medium-rare.

In your day-to-day life, if you’ve realised that a lot of the food you eat might need to be reconsidered, here’s a few more steps to consider for good health:

  • Avoid gravy. I know… yes I said it, but gravy is essentially “AGE-soup”
  • Buy nitrate-free bacon and reduce consumption of smoked and processed meats and fish
  • Increase the amount of moist cooking that you do with meat in your general day-to-day life
  • As always, eat plenty of vegetables. A 2:1 ratio of vegetables to meat is a good guide to use if you’re an omnivore. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, be aware of the reliance you have to dry-cooked grains and cereals or other high-AGE foods, and look for ways to increase the non-AGE foods and cooking styles.


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