Herbs do more than add flavor to foods. Plants that are high in antioxidant compounds, such as rosemary and garlic, help to make foods safer by blocking potential carcinogens from forming during the cooking process, namely heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Although all forms of cooking trigger glycation from protein-sugar chemical reactions in foods, HCAs and PAHs readily form when muscles meats, including chicken, pork, fish and especially beef, are cooked at high temperatures of 375' F or more.
If you enjoy barbecued or pan-fried chicken, or prefer your steak well done, this news will be of particular interest to you. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is evidence to suggest that PAHs may increase the risk of leukemia and tumor formation in the gastrointestinal tract, while HCAs are associated with an increased risk of prostate, breast, colon, liver and lung cancer. It has nothing to do with whether the grill is fueled by charcoal or propane either. Our bodies use certain enzymes to metabolize these rogue sugar proteins into reactive compounds, and that's when DNA mutations can occur.
Here's the good news: inviting plenty of herbs and vegetables to the dinner table will help to reduce the risk. Rosemary, for instance, contains rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid and carnosol, potent antioxidants that help to prevent the formation of HCAs by as much as 87%. Herbs can be introduced as seasoning or in marinades, like this recipe. Other herbs that are loaded with antioxidants include mint, basil, sage, savory, thyme, oregano and marjoram. In the spice category, there's ginger and turmeric. Eating a side dish of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli, as well as high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value fruits like blueberries for dessert also cuts risk. There's also a lot to be said for moderation when it comes to eating meats cooked on the grill.
Now for the recipe...
1 cup balsamic vinegar 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup chopped rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried) 2 teaspoons sea salt 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Use to marinade steak, chicken or pork for at least an hour before cooking. May also be brushed on during cooking. Discard any unused marinade.