Make your festive braai a healthy event

Posted on 1 December 2017

Jandri Barnard, a registered dietician at Mediclinic Newcastle, offers ways to bump up the health quotient when you’re gathered around the flames.

  1. While you wait for the coals to be ready, steer clear of oily crisps and creamy mayonnaise dips. Opt instead for mini rice crackers, fresh vegetable crudités and microwave or air-popped popcorn, with herbs or spices added for flavor. Home-made dips of chickpeas or butterbeans pureed with olive oil (hummus) or low fat plain yoghurt mixed with garlic and grated cucumber (tzatziki) are lower in fat and higher in fibre than store-bought alternatives. Lean biltong, raw, unsalted nuts and oven-baked pretzels are more options.
  2. Reduce the amount of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (see below) when you grill or braai by trimming off excess fat from your meat and the skin from your chicken before you grill. Partially cook your meat before putting it on the grid or cook smaller pieces of meat to ensure HCAs have less time to form.

This will also reduce your fat intake and can lower your cholesterol levels too. Lean protein like ostrich steaks, fish and skinless chicken are good alternatives to fatty chops and boerewors.

  1. Pass on store-bought marinades that are usually high in sugar and MSG and get creative in the kitchen. Blend vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and spices for a simple marinade – or experiment with cider vinegar, cherries, plums, apples, mustard, garlic, onions, black pepper, oregano and rosemary. Adding a small amount of a sweet ingredient (like fruit juice, honey, brown sugar or molasses) to the marinade or grilling sauce will add flavour.
  2. Vegetables deseve a place on your braai grid too because they do not cause harmful chemicals even when charred and cooked at high temperatures. Try braaiing zucchini, mushrooms, onion or asparagus, seasoned and brushed with olive oil. Make vegetable kebabs or create your own braai vegetable packets in foil. Butternut filled with fat-free cottage cheese, mielies, sweet potatoes, grilled eggplant slices are interesting alternatives to creamy potato side dishes.
  3. Combat the harmful chemicals produced in the meat with powerful antioxidants by enjoying your meat with a fresh salad. Remember the more variety and colour, the more antioxidants present. Instead of creamy coleslaws opt for quinoa and cous-cous alternatives to up your fibre content.
  4. Limit your alcohol intake. Reach for light beers and enjoy diluted wine spritzers instead of sugary cocktails or spirits mixed with sugary cooldrinks.

Is it healthy to braai meat?

Whenever fat drips onto your braai causing excess smoke, the smoke can transfer cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to your meat. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – which are also linked to cancer – also form when food is cooked at high temperatures. Both HCAs and PAHs are mutagenic, which means they could cause changes in DNA that may increase your risk of cancer.

Epidemiologists first noticed a connection between the consumption of smoked foods and stomach cancer in the 1960s, especially in Japan, Russia, and Eastern Europe, where smoking is a popular way to preserve meat and fish. Newer research (including a 2012 study in the DNA and Cell Biology Journal that linked smoked meat consumption to breast cancer) suggests eating smoked meats may lead to cancer even outside the gastrointestinal tract.

In 2015, the Oncology Review Journal published a convincing association between the intake of red meat and colorectal cancer risks.

Scientists have estimated the cancer risk due to HCA exposure is about 1 in 10,000 . For people who eat large amounts of well-done muscle meats, including beef, pork, fish, poultry and flame-grilled chicken, this figure rises to more than 1 in 50 people.

In 2015, the International agency for research of cancer (IARC) announced that processed meat has been classified as a ‘definite’ cause of cancer and red meat is a ‘probable’ cause. Current recommendations are to eat no more than 500g per week of red meat and to avoid processed meat as much as possible.

But of course, if you’re eating braai’ed meat in moderation, there’s no reason not to continue. Just consider these options to minimise your exposure to PAHs and HCAs.

  1. Keep your grill clean and scrape off all charred residue before braaiing any of your meats or vegetables.
  2. 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.
  3. Always avoid charring your meat (and don’t eat the black or brown parts).
  4. 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.
  5. Flip your burger patties or steak often, as this will help cut down on HCAs.
  6. Add cherries, garlic or spices to your kebabs or sosaties, as these ingredients can help prevent the formation of HCAs.
  7. Grill or braai high-quality, organic and grass-fed meats.
Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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