Health updates: Marinating meat and genetically modified

The following is new information regarding reducing levels of cancer-causing chemicals in meat and the meaning of the stickers on our produce.

Marinating meat in beer or wine reduces cancer-causing chemicals

Marinating steak in beer or wine before cooking it dramatically reduces levels of chemicals that can cause cancer. Beer is more effective than wine at lowering the cancer-forming chemicals and also apparently often makes for a better-looking and tastier meal.

Cooking food increases its levels of chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines (HAs), which can cause cancerous tumors. Frying and grilling meat is particularly dangerous, because the intense heat turns sugars and amino acids into high levels of the compounds.

However, 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. Marinating steak in red wine or beer for six hours before cooking can cut levels of two types of HA by up to 90 percent. Beer was also efficient in reducing a third type of HA, cutting levels significantly in just four hours.

Previous research has shown that a red wine marinade has a similar effect on HA levels in fried chicken. A sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic can also lower HA levels in grilled chicken by as much as 90 percent. Cooking meat on a lower heat and for a shorter period of time also prevents dangerous levels of HAs from forming.

Is your produce genetically modified?

The little stickers we find on our fruits and vegetables have digits that let us know whether they are conventionally grown or organic, and if they are genetically modified (GM). Here’s what you should look for:

  • A four-digit number means produce is conventionally grown.
  • A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it is organic.
  • A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it is GM.


Resources: The Telegraph December 30, 2008, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008, 56 (22), pp 10625–10632, New Scientist December 30, 2008, and

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 2, Apr/May 2009.

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