By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
With current enthusiasm for “Meatless Mondays”, promotion of vegetarian and veganism for celebrities and interest in all things meat-free, it seems meat is on the way out.
It’s true – eating meat can cause health problems. Scientific evidence such as 2010 research from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that excess meat consumption, particularly red meat and processed meat, is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
But high quality meat is also high in many nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, B3, B6, iron, selenium, and zinc. High quality meat contains healthy fats that are essential for the body’s development.
Plus, nothing beats the taste of a sizzling steak fresh from the grill.
So how do you balance the benefit with the health dangers? Just follow these tips and tricks we list in this article for making your meat healthier.
Why Does Meat Come With a Health Warning?
Meat presents a potential health risk for many reasons, according to The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
For example, high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat cause heart problems and obesity.
The high calorie content of meat also results in weight management problems.
L-carnitine in red meat may result in excess plaque build-up in the arteries.
And here's the kicker. Certain compounds in meat actually become cancer-causing when heated at a high temperature, according to evidence like the 2004 study from the National Cancer Center in Japan.
It seems that the worst meat you eat is "well-done".
Why Is Overcooked Meat So Dangerous?
Your enemies are two compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These two cancer-causers are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures such as frying or grilling on a barbeque. In lab experiments, these compounds have been shown to increase the risk of cancer.
And the only place you find significant levels of cancer-causing HCAs is in meat cooked at a high temperature.
Well-done meat contains higher levels of cancer-causing HCAs than rare meat, according to a 1998 study from the National Cancer Institute.
Grilling or barbequeing is the biggest source of cancer-causing HCAs. Why? Tthis is the cooking method that reaches the highest temperatures. Health guidelines have focused on well-done meat to avoid food poisoning, but it could be that this advice is at the cost of increased cancer risk.
Healthy Habits for Meat Eaters
We’ll discuss the relative merits of different cooking methods below. But there are other things to watch out for to make your meat diet healthier.
When shopping, choose the lean cuts of red meat with minimal fat. White meat from turkeys and chickens is generally lower in fat and the best for you in terms of protein.
Steer clear of processed meats like poor-quality burgers, sausages, pastrami, deli meats, and hot dogs ---- these contain countless additives that are of potential danger to your health.
So if you don’t want to give up meat, how can you make your diet healthier?
We rounded up the recent scientific advice to see where you can make improvements to your meat eating – which will benefit your overall health.
1. Marinate Meat in Beer or Wine Before You Barbecue
Come on, what's better than a barbecuing? Almost everyone loves to grill up a plate of food for family and friends.
But watch out. Carcinogenic compounds created when meat is cooked at high heat are not so appetizing.
Fortunately, scientists recently discovered that marinating meat in beer significantly decreases the amount of cancer-causing PAHs in the meat once grilled.
The 2014 study from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal showed that marinating pork loin in a pale lager reduced the levels of carcinogenic PAHs by 36.5 percent.
Marinating pork in a nonalcoholic pilsner reduced levels of carcinogens by 25 percent. And, best of all, in marinating pork in black beer reduced carcinogens by 68 percent.
Previous research also found that marinating steak in red wine or in beer for six hours before putting it on a barbeque cuts carcinogenic HCA levels by up to 90 percent, according to a 2008 study from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal.
It certainly seems worth it to stick your meat in an alcoholic marinade – to increase the taste as well as safeguard your health.
2. Even Store-Bought Marinades Make Meat Healthier
If you avoid alcohol, don’t despair – you can swap out the beer or wine for another tasty marinade that also has health benefits.
It turns out that even store-bought marinades can reduce levels of carcinogenic chemicals in your grilled meat.
In a 2008 study from Kansas State University steaks were marinated in one of three commercial concoctions – herb, Southwest, or Caribbean – for one hour before grilling.
The store-bought Caribbean marinade decreased HCA content by 88 percent, the herb marinade by 72 percent, and the Southwest by 57 percent.
3. Add Garlic, Lemon and Onion for Meat Health Benefits
Of course, it’s even healthier when you make your own marinade as store-bought products often contain high levels of sugar and salt.
Luckily 2007 research from the University of Hohenheim in Germany demonstrated that a meat marinade combination of garlic, onions and lemon juice also reduced HCA formation.
The best combination? According to the researchers, the best combo was 31.2 percent onion, 28.6 percent garlic, and 14.6 percent lemon juice, in case you want to be exact.
To make a rough approximation, use equal parts of onions and garlic and a generous squirt of lemon juice.
4. Flip Your Burgers to Make Eating Meat More Healthy
When you don’t want to marinate your meat, be careful about the way you cook it and make small changes for health benefits.
Even something small such as how many times you flip your burgers makes a difference, according to 2000 research from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Here, the flippo-holics have the right idea. Flipping burgers more often reduces the overall heat the burgers reach, and therefore lowers the levels of HCAs formed when pan-frying.
5. Make Healthier Beef Roast --Turn Down the Oven
And, you can turn down your oven. Oven baking is generally healthier than frying or grilling. But, even if you use your oven to cook meat, high temperatures can still produce those carcinogenic chemicals.
The National Cancer Institute says that HCAs are increased threefold when the temperature of the oven goes from 392° to 482°F when baking beef.
6. Vitamin E and Rosemary Make a Healthy Difference to Meat
Rosemary and vitamin E are antioxidants. These two particular antioxidants are particularly effective at lowering HCA content in meat, according to researchers.
Rosemary, in particular, has a surprisingly dramatic effect.
Adding rosemary extract even at as low a concentration as 0.05 percent reduces HCA formation by 90 percent.
As for Vitamin E, a 2000 study from Michigan State University and 2010 research from Kansas State University discovered adding Vitamin E directly to ground beef reduces levels of HCAs by 70 percent. (Rosemary also has the added benefit of being a natural pain-blocker.)
7. Drink Orange Juice Before You Eat Meat to Help Your Heart
There is another way ways to help make your meat healthier --drink orange juice. Orange juice contains Vitamin C and other anti-inflammatory compounds which dampen the inflammatory effect of L-carnitine in red meat. These compounds also reduce the plaque build-up in the arteries.
A 2010 study from the State University of New York at Buffalo says that drinking orange juice before a meal offsets the damage caused by a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meat feast.
Orange juice in combination with the meat meal helped reduce inflammatory stress in the body by scavenging free radicals which otherwise would damage your arteries.
It’s a simple way to make meat healthier.