by Jonah Udall
June 20, 2023
In the last newsletter, we talked about oxidative stress and shared Dr. Morrison’s strategies for how to protect yourself. With summer upon us, another big source of oxidative stress can be cookouts.
We don’t want to rain on your BBQ, but it’s true – our favorite summer feasts are often served with a hearty side of damaging pro-oxidants. But don’t fret, we’ve got some tasty strategies in store for how you can kick oxidative stress off your next grill menu.
How grilling creates oxidative stress
Dry, high heat cooking like on a grill causes the nutrients in food to react together to form powerful pro-oxidants. These include:
Advanced glycation end products (AGE) form from sugars reacting with fats and proteins at high temperatures. Nearly any food when browned or blackened contains AGEs, though many more are formed when cooking animal foods than veggies.1 AGEs have been associated with diabetes, liver disease, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and even depression.2
Heterocyclic amines (HCA) form when meat browns during cooking, which is called the Maillard reaction. HCAs most often form from proteins and sugars reacting with a compound called creatine, which is plentiful in muscle. HCAs are considered carcinogens, associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer.3
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) form from the incomplete combustion of proteins, fats, and carbs, which especially occurs during grilling. These compounds are also strongly carcinogenic.
Eating these pro-oxidants makes our antioxidants work overtime, and can wear down our vital antioxidant stores. But your marinades could make all the difference in how many pro-oxidants wind up in your meat in the first place! Here’s some of the best marinades for reducing dangerous pro-oxidants:
Herbs and spices – The good news is, just about any herb or spice rub can lower HCA and PAH formation on the grill, such as garlic, ginger, thyme, rosemary, or red pepper.4 (Be sure your dried herbs haven’t expired!) Let it marinate for a full 4-6hrs for maximum benefit.
Beer – yes, marinating steak in beer for 6 hours reduced the formation of the most common HCAs by nearly 90%.5 Red wine also reduces HCAs, but not nearly as much as beer. Adding beer to an herb marinade can increase the benefit even further, and the longer you let it marinate the better.
Honey – Unlike plain sugar, marinating in honey actually reduces HCAs on the grill.6 You don’t need to scrap the sweetness!
Lemon or vinegar – Acidic marinades dramatically reduce the formation of AGEs. Combine with herbs and spices to tackle the HCA and PAH all at once!
Skip the packaged BBQ sauce. These sauces usually contain processed sugar, which can increase the formation of AGEs, both on the grill and in your body.
Hosting an oxidative stress-free cookout is about more than just reducing those toxic pro-oxidants. Add plenty of veggies to the grill along with your marinated meats to increase your antioxidants as well! See our previous blog on how to have the healthiest cookout for more tips and strategies, and for a tasty green sauce recipe to get some extra antioxidants on the side.
Try this tasty oxidation-proof marinade at your next cookout!
- 1 pound steak
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp sage (minced or dried)
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1/2tsp salt
Instructions: Mix the honey and apple cider vinegar until dissolved. Rub the salt, garlic, and sage thoroughly onto the steak, and pour the vinegar mix over the steak in a marinating dish. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6hrs, before putting it on the grill!
URIBARRI J, WOODRUFF S, GOODMAN S, et al. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(6):911-16.e12. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018
D’Cunha NM, Sergi D, Lane MM, et al. The Effects of Dietary Advanced Glycation End-Products on Neurocognitive and Mental Disorders. Nutrients. 2022;14(12):2421. doi:10.3390/nu14122421
Nadeem HR, Akhtar S, Ismail T, et al. Heterocyclic Aromatic Amines in Meat: Formation, Isolation, Risk Assessment, and Inhibitory Effect of Plant Extracts. Foods Basel Switz. 2021;10(7):1466. doi:10.3390/foods10071466
Neves T de M, da Cunha DT, de Rosso VV, Domene SMÁ. Effects of seasoning on the formation of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in meats: A meta-analysis. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2021;20(1):526-541. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12650
Melo A, Viegas O, Petisca C, Pinho O, Ferreira IMPLVO. Effect of beer/red wine marinades on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in pan-fried beef. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(22):10625-10632. doi:10.1021/jf801837s
Hasnol NDS, Jinap S, Sanny M. Effect of different types of sugars in a marinating formulation on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled chicken. Food Chem. 2014;145:514-521. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.08.086