Picture your go-to fast-food outlet deep-frying their meats, submerging them in oil and serving them covered in grease. We all know it’s an unhealthy way to eat meat, but do we appreciate the health risks enough to cut down on it?
Before we start looking at (attacking) different cooking methods, let’s make it clear to ourselves why we cook meat in general:
- cooking breaks down tough fibres and tissue, making meat easier to chew and digest
- it kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella which can cause food poisoning and potentially result in death
- cooking also leads to better nutrient absorption
However, whilst all methods break down tissue and kill bacteria, the amount of nutrient absorption greatly differs between them. Under some methods, nutrients can actually be lost.
On top of this, heating meat at high temperatures can lead to the formation of harmful chemicals which have been linked to severe health problems further down the line.
So, we need to look for cooking methods that retain as many nutrients as possible whilst minimising the formation of harmful chemicals – this will help us get the most out of our meat.
Grilling is a good one to start off with since it’s really popular – it involves cooking with a heat source directly below your meat, such as an open grill or barbecue. And of course, it leaves that unbeatable charred flavour!
Unfortunately though, this cooking method often leads to the production of harmful chemicals such as:
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which have been linked to several types of cancer
- advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which have been linked to increased heart disease, kidney disease and skin aging
Reduce the risk of such chemicals forming by:
- not overcooking the meat
- discarding any fat drippings whilst the meat cooks
Deep-frying refers to submerging food in fat, like oil, during cooking. Meats are often breaded or coated in batter prior to being deep-fried.
The pros of deep-frying meat include the great flavour, crispy texture and retention of vitamins and minerals. But the health risks are greater than that of grilling:
- deep-frying has been shown to result in higher levels of AGEs
- compounds called heterocyclic amines (HAs) – which can cause cancer - form because the meat reaches really high temperatures during cooking
- the meat absorbs a large amount of fat
- the excessive use of vegetable and seed oils increase calorie intake and heart disease risk
Top tip: if you prefer crispier, fried meats over grilled, invest in an air-fryer to avoid excessive oil use
Remember, it's okay to eat grilled or deep-fried meats once in a while. But the moment we start making it a habit is when we start severely risking our health.
Slow cooking is a healthier alternative – it involves cooking for several hours at a low temperature. It has many pros:
- ease and convenience - meat can be left in the cooker without needing to be checked
- the low temperatures reduce the risk of chemicals like HAs forming
- slow cooking makes tougher cuts of meats more tender
However, B vitamins are lost in the released juice as the meat cooks. Also, poultry and other softer meats can become overly tender.
All cooking methods have their pros and cons. But of these three popular methods, slow cooking is by far the healthiest. There are even healthier options out there – search up ‘sous vide’ for example. It may be less popular, but it’s worth spending time reading about it.