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Is There Really a Healthy Way to Use Alcohol?

January 17, 2009 | 61,825 views

marinating steak, beer, red wineMarinating steak in beer or wine before cooking it dramatically reduces levels of chemicals that can cause cancer. Beer is more effective than wine at lowering the cancer-forming chemicals (and also apparently often makes for a better-looking and tastier meal.)

Cooking food increases its levels of chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines (HA’s), which can cause cancerous tumors. Frying and grilling meat is particularly dangerous, because the intense heat turns sugars and amino acids into high levels of the compounds.

However, scientists are gathering increasing amounts of evidence to show that the levels of HA’s in cooked meat can be lowered by treating the food beforehand. Marinating steak in red wine or beer for six hours before frying can cut levels of two types of HA by up to 90 percent compared. Beer was also efficient at reducing a third type of HA, cutting levels significantly in just four hours.

Previous research has shown that a red wine marinade has a similar effect on HA levels in fried chicken. A sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic can also lower HA levels in grilled chicken by as much as 90 percent.

Cooking meat on lower heat and for a shorter period of time also prevents dangerous levels of HA’s from forming.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

If you are someone who loves a grilled steak or chicken breast, and you have no intention of giving it up, using marinades strategically is a wise way to cut down on the health risks.

This may be one of the best uses for alcohol there is, as you get the benefits of healthier cooked meat while the toxic effects of the alcohol itself get burned off during the cooking process.

The researchers believe the marinade reduces harmful heterocylic amines (HAs) by acting as a barrier and preventing water-soluble molecules from moving to the surface of the meat. When these molecules rise to the surface, the high cooking temperatures convert them into HAs. 

The other well documented benefit to certain types of alcohol, like red wine, are the powerful plant polyphenols like resveratrol that it contains. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that has been found to extend life, prevent Alzheimer’s disease and inhibit the spread of cancer, and alcohol appears to significantly improve its absorption in your body.

However, I am not yet convinced that the health benefits outweigh the damage from consuming alcohol so I currently don’t believe or recommend it is wise to regularly consume alcohol for health benefits.  Indulging in small amounts intermittently on social occasions probably results in very limited risks though.

The Health Risks of Cooked Meat

There have been massive public health agendas aimed at the importance of thoroughly cooking your meat to prevent food poisoning. While this may indeed be important if your meat comes from unhealthy, diseased animals (which is likely the case if you buy it at a supermarket), if you get meat from a more reputable source, such as a small organic farm, the risks of food poisoning from undercooked meat diminish significantly.

In fact, eating meat from a safe source raw or very lightly cooked is the healthiest way to eat it. This is true for two reasons.

1. Meat products from animals raised outside in the sun are rich in biophotons, which contain bio-information that controls complex vital processes in your body. The biophotons have the power to elevate your physical body to a higher oscillation or order, and this is manifested as a feeling of vitality and well-being. Cooking your food destroys these important biophotons.

2. Any time you cook meat at high temperatures, whether you’re grilling, frying, broiling, etc., toxic, health-harming chemicals are created, including:

• Heterocyclic Amines (HAs): These form when food is cooked at high temperatures, and they’re linked to cancer. In terms of HA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and never eat blackened sections.

• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): When fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, and the smoke surrounds your food, it can transfer cancer-causing PAHs to the meat.

• Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized), it increases the formation of AGEs in your food. When you eat the food, it transfers the AGEs into your body. AGEs build up in your body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

It is my belief that most of the studies showing red meats are unhealthy got their results because the common way most people consume animal protein is COOKED, or worse yet grilled, creating all the toxic substances discussed above. For instance:

1. In one study, researchers found that those who ate their beef medium-well or well-done had more than three times the risk of stomach cancer as those who ate their beef rare or medium-rare.

2. Other studies have shown that an increased risk of developing pancreatic, colorectal, and breast cancer is associated with high intakes of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats.

3. One study found that a compound called PhIP, formed when meat is charred at high temperatures, causes prostate cancer in rats.

4. Scientists have estimated that the average cancer risk because of heterocyclic amine exposure ranges from 1 per 10,000 for the average person to more than 1 per 50 for those ingesting large amounts of well-done muscle meats, especially flame-grilled chicken.

My Guidelines for Cooking Meat

Meat is a healthy addition to most people’s diets, provided you get it from a high-quality source, and eat the varieties and amounts that are best for your nutritional type. Healthy meat should be organic and grass-fed, and should not contain preservatives like nitrates or any other additives.

As I said earlier, ideally you should eat your meat raw or very lightly cooked, but for those of you who aren’t ready to give up cooked meat just yet, here are my top guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Limit the amount of grilled foods you eat, and make sure you’re eating plenty of other raw foods in your diet.

2. You can reduce the amount of PAHs when you grill by not cooking fatty meats, and by trimming the fat off before you grill.

3. When grilling, cook your food with indirect heat, such as on a rack rather than directly on the coals. Cooking on a cedar plank is also helpful.

4. Always avoid charring your meat (and don't eat the black or brown parts).

5. Cook meat partially before putting it on the grill, or cook smaller pieces of meat, which take less time to cook, and therefore give HCAs less time to form.

6. You can reduce the amount of AGEs in your food by using an acidic marinade that contains lemon juice or vinegar.

7. Marinating meats before grilling or broiling them can reduce HCAs (according to some experts by 90 percent or more). However, only use natural ingredients for marinades, and keep the coating thin to avoid charring.

8. Flip your burgers often, as this will help cut down on HCAs.

9. Add blueberries or cherries to your burgers, as they can also help prevent the formation of HCAs.

10. Avoid grilling hot dogs, bratwurst and other processed meats, as these seem to be among the worst offenders.

11. Only grill high-quality, organic and grass-fed meats.

12. Cook the meat as little as possible. Rare or medium-rare at the absolute most. You can also quickly sear the meat on both sides, leaving the inside mostly raw. This gives the illusion that you’re eating cooked meat, with many of the benefits of raw.

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