Reading Time: 4 minutes

Sue Joy | 98five blogger

Cooking food causes a series of chemical reactions that change the food to make it edible. Did you know the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency launched a campaign against over-browning cooked foods?

We all know how delicious a grilled steak or chicken is when you cook it so that the outside of the meat has slightly charred bits. The same occurs if you cook nicely browned roast veggies.

While in Singapore on a recent holiday with my family I read an article in the The Straits Times about the United Kingdom’s new campaign against over-browning foods. So I started researching a bit further.

Now, I love the flavour of crusty bits on my BBQ meat and veggies, so I needed to discover whether this was anything to worry about or not.

As it turns out, heat speeds up chemical reactions and this affects the food both in good and bad ways. Over-cooking can affect the quality of food — firstly, it makes food harder to digest and metabolise and, secondly, charred and burnt foods contain carcinogenic substances. However, there are ways to cook and reduce the negative affects.

The Straits Times article written by Linette Lai stated the UK Food Standards Agency was encouraging people to ‘go for gold’ — encouraging people to aim for a golden colour or even lighter when toasting, grilling, baking or frying starchy foods too.

They wanted to raise awareness of the dangers of over-cooking foods, it wasn’t just about meats and roasted vegetables. Experts say the biggest concern is that over-browned food generally contains cancer-causing chemicals.

What makes these foods so tasty, are the chemical reactions that take place when they are cooked at high temperatures. Director of Clinical Nutrition Research Centre in Singapore professor Jeyakumar Henry said that for starchy items like bread and potatoes, the sugars in them combine with proteins to create the enticing flavours and aromas we associate with toast or french fries.

With charred meat, the taste comes from the rearrangement of amino acids and sugars in the meat. Unfortunately, cooking carbohydrate rich starchy foods at high temperatures results in the formation of a chemical called acrylamide. Similarly, char-grilling meats creates compounds know as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Over-cooking also results in making food:

  • harder to metabolise: it becomes more difficult to digest once it has been cooked above a certain temperature;
  • lose nutrients: generally, the longer you cook a food the more nutrients are lost and the longer it cooks more chemical reactions can occur; and
  • contain carcinogenic substances: when charred on the outside certain foods can contain dangerous cancer forming properties.

There are no clear guidelines on the amount of charred and browned foods people can consume, but it’s best to keep in mind that there is an increased risk of cancer when excessive amounts are consumed.

Professor Henry said “those who are really worried can take steps like cutting the crust off the toast before eating,” adding that, interestingly, marinating meats can actually help to reduce the levels of cancer causing substances in foods and it’s important we keep everything in moderation.

After reading several other articles, I see the ways to reduce health risks to your family is:

  1. to only cook your food until golden — not dark brown or burnt;
  2. marinate your meats in either seasonings like garlic, olive oil or tasty combinations of citrus juice, vinegar, herbs, spices mixed with healthy oils. Research has shown that marinating just one hour before cooking is a healthier option when barbecuing meat; and
  3. par-boil starchy vegetables first before frying or roasting to reduce the time needed to brown them.

Here’s a selection of my marinade recipes you might like to try:

Mustard marinade works great with beef steaks.

Coriander & lime chicken salad is a deliciously tangy marinade for chicken and also works as a dressing.

Avocado & mango salad with smoked paprika fishthe marinade in this dish gives a lovely full flavour to fish fillets.

Basil and lemon pesto is a perfect spread on lamb chops and baked in the oven, just make sure it’s left sitting for one hour before placing in the oven.

I love the flavour of a barbecue and roasted foods but I will now make sure I don’t burn or have dark crusty pieces on my food. I will be ‘going for gold’ from now on.

This article was originally posted on as How harmful is over-cooking food?

Sue joins Mike on Mornings fortnightly on Mondays.

ONLINE USE_Susan Joy profile photoSue is Perth born and bred, married to her soulmate Bryan (40+ years) and together they have three adult sons, three daughter-in-laws and four grandchildren, with more on the way. Family is one of Sue’s greatest pleasures in life. For the last 15 years of her working life, Sue has managed Chiropractic clinics. She is a member of her local independent Baptist church, enjoys teaching Sunday School to young children and is the author of THE JOYful TABLE cookbook. Sue has battled with Chronic Fatty Liver Disease, arthritis and digestive issues and decided to conduct her own research on what food choices could help her conditions. These choices culminate under what is termed a ‘paleo lifestyle’. | Follow Sue on Facebook | Instagram

Skip to toolbar