For many people, cooking “healthfully” means choosing hormone-free dairy products, organic vegetables, and beef raised without antibiotics. But to cook truly healthfully, you need to pay as much attention to how you are cooking as to what you are cooking. If you are making an effort to select healthy products at the market, keep them healthy once you get them home!
Numerous studies from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and others have found that certain toxins and carcinogens, including HCAs and PAHs, are released when you cook at higher than steaming/boiling temperatures. In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.
High temperatures cause amino acids and sugars to react and create the good flavors and smells you associate with browned meats, grilled veggies, and toasted bread. But if your cooking temps go too high you go from “browning” to producing carcinogens. The trick is to stay in a temperature range from about 140 C to 180 C (284 F to 356 F). You still will get plenty of browning at those temperatures but you will avoid the carcinogens that form at higher temperatures.
If you’re serious about maintaining good health, try to reduce high-temperature cooked foods in your diet. It doesn’t mean you have to stop grilling or eliminate fried foods entirely, as your liver can provide some detox, but reducing the amount that you consume can support good health.
Here are some easy ways to make how you cook as healthy as what you cook!
- Run your range fan (vented to the outside) whenever you cook!
- Cook more slowly and at a lower temperature (e.g., boiling, steaming, braising, and low-temperature frying).
- Use natural gas or propane instead of charcoal for grilling.
- Clean charred bits off your grill before cooking.
- Microwave meat for a minute before grilling or broiling to reduce time of exposure to high heat.
- Cut off obviously charred pieces of meat, potatoes or toast.
- Avoid overcooked food. The browner/more charred your toast/fries/meat, the more acrylamide or HCAs will be present.
- Keep temperatures below the smoke point of your cooking oil.
- Use cookware that spreads heat evenly, so that you don’t create hot spots that cause food to burn.
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