One of the many qualms with nutrition that I have wrote about on here before is the feeling that no matter how hard you try to eat healthfully it’s never good enough. Sometimes it seems that no matter what you are doing, there is another step to be taken towards “perfect” health. For instance, maybe you decide instead of going out and getting fried chicken, you’ll bake some at home yourself. Good move towards better health! Now let’s say you choose the chicken breast labeled “natural” at the grocery store and you feel pretty good about that too. But is it organic? Nope. Well, is it locally raised? Nope. Opps, could’ve done better! And did you know that when you cook that chicken, you could be creating harmful carcinogens? See what I mean?! What started as a great step toward eating more healthfully (baked chicken instead of fried) is now not good enough. Taken too far, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthfully is unofficially called “orthorexia”, and I see it all time working with eating disorders.
It is my personal belief that the ever changing face of nutrition, along with this “never good enough” or “I should eat more healthfully” mentality sets us up for failure when it comes to meeting our nutrition goals and feeling good about it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and develop a “why bother?” attitude, which is unfortunate because nutrition is important. But it is hard to navigate the ever-changing “facts” about what optimal nutrition really looks like, and to determine what’s important enough to actually implement and what not to worry too much about. We all draw the “ah screw it” line in different places, which is totally fine. Life is too short to worry too much about the quest for perfect nutrition (see that blog), so we each have to determine individually how much we want to pay attention to our health and nutrition. So is buying chicken at the store instead of getting fried restaurant chicken enough? Well, generally I’d say yes, as small steps are better than no steps, but it also depends on who you are and what your health goals are. For the average American choosing to bake at home instead of going out to eat and ordering a fried chicken is a positive step toward better nutrition. However, if you already do that consistently maybe you are ready to take the next step, such as marinating your meats. That is where I find myself today.
So back to the carcinogen topic: Carcinogens are compounds that can cause cancer. There is data that says that marinating your meats before cooking can cut down on the level of carcinogens, particularly heterocyclic amines (HAs or HCAs), created during the cooking process (particularly in grilling and frying, but to a lesser extent in baking as well). Researchers aren’t entirely sure why the marinades work, but the theory is that the marinade creates a barrier on the meat’s surface which prevents water-soluble molecules from moving to the surface where they would be turned into HCAs by the high temperature, reducing the HCAs created by as much as 99% in some cases.
This is one nutrition philosophy that I do feel is worthy of implementing. Why? Well firstly because cancer scares the crap out of me, so if I can do something simple to reduce my risk I’m all for that. Second, marinating meats is pretty easy. It won’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. All marinades help reduce HCAs. Lastly, marinating meats is delicious! Whether or not marinating meats falls below your “screw it” line or not is up to you, but if not below are some of the marinades I’ve used. Feel free to recommend others, I’ve got a lot of marinating to do!
For steak/red meat: soy sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce; beer (yup, beer); red wine and rosemary
For chicken: orange juice and bbq sauce; apricot preserves; rosemary and olive oil
For salmon: honey with ginger and lime; white wine with lemon; soy sauce (w/ honey)
And let’s remember that marinades are just plain tasty! Question – would a coat of olive oil and a thick dry rub have any similar effect as a barrier to carcinogens?
Oh, and let me pitch in a marinade idea for you (it’s perfect for lean cuts like flank steak): Make a marinade based on fresh pineapple juice. Let it sit for 24 hours. It’s sweet and tasty, plus tenderizes tough cuts of meat really well.
Agreed, they are very tasty! Yes- olive oil and a dry rub would create a similar barrier, although I do not have data as to if it would be more or less effective than a liquid marinade. I’ll have to try out the pineapple juice!