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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marinating steak in beer or wine 'reduces cancer chemicals'

Marinating steak in beer or wine before cooking it dramatically reduces levels of chemicals that can cause cancer, according to scientists.

By Martin Beckford
Marinating steak in beer or wine 'reduces cancer chemicals'
Shoppers are urged to avoid processed meats. Photo: Andrew Crowley

Researchers found that steeping the meat in alcohol for several hours cut the high levels of carcinogenic compounds triggered by frying it.

In addition, they discovered that beer was more effective than wine at lowering the cancer-forming chemicals, and also made for a better-looking and tastier meal.

New Scientist magazine, which reports the findings, stated: "If you are frying a steak and mindful of your health, then marinate it in either beer or red wine.

"So say food scientists who measured amounts of a family of carcinogens found in fried food after steeping them in booze."

Cooking food increases its levels of chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines (HAs), which can cause cancerous tumours.

Frying and grilling meat is particularly dangerous, because the intense heat turns the sugars and amino acids of muscle tissue into high levels of the compounds.

But scientists are gathering increasing amounts of evidence to show that the levels of HAs in cooked meat can be lowered by treating the food beforehand.

Isabel Ferreira and colleagues at the University of Porto in Portugal found that marinating steak in red wine or beer before frying – for six hours – cut levels of two types of HA by up to 90 per cent compared with untreated meat.

Beer was more efficient at reducing a third type of HA than wine, cutting levels significantly in four hours instead of six.

It also made the meat look, smell and taste better than the wine-marinated steak, according to the new report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

"Tasters also preferred the smell, taste and appearance of beer-marinated steak," said New Scientist.

The researchers believe the alcoholic sauce cuts levels of the carcinogen by acting as a barrier – preventing water-soluble molecules moving to the surface of the steak where they would be turned into HAs by the high temperature.

"Beer contains more water-retaining sugars than wine and Ferreira says that may hinder the transport of water-soluble molecules to the steak's surface, where high heat converts them in HAs," New Scientist said.

Previous research has shown that a red wine marinade has a similar effect on HA levels in fried chicken, while a non-alcoholic version is also available. A sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic lowered HA levels in grilled chicken by as much as 90 per cent, a study found.

Cooking meat on lower heat and for a shorter period of time also prevents dangerous levels of HAs forming.

Research into reducing levels of HAs in cooked food comes after a series of studies have shown links between meat consumption and cancer.

Last year a landmark report on the causes of the disease published by the World Cancer Research Fund claimed that eating any processed meat, such as sausages, bacon and ham, significantly raises the risk of contracting bowel cancer.

Its report urged shoppers to avoid processed meats and advised eating a maximum of 1.1lb (500g) of cooked red meat a week.


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