- Grilled BBQ Chicken with Tomato Sauce
- Oven Baked Chips
- Grilled Zucchini with White Pepper
Are grilled foods better for you than fried foods?
Fish, chips, sausages even Mars bars, there's simply no end to the food we like to deep fry. But while it might taste great, the experts are always telling us it's bad for our health. So how bad can deep frying really be and is the good old barbie giving us cancer?
Our reporter Leila McKinnon finds out.
Leila pays a visit to Drexel University in Philadelphia to meet Dr Stanley Segall, and Dr Philip Handel, two of America's top food scientists, and both experts in food technology.
They've organised an experiment to show which cooking method adds the least fat to your food.
On the menu today? Skinless chicken breasts.
"Most of the fat in a chicken breast is in the skin on any piece of chicken, so we have removed most of the fat from the product that we're frying," says Dr Handel.
They're cooking the chicken three ways — firstly grilled, or what Americans call broiled, then pan-fried or sautéed, and deep-fried but without any coating on the chicken. Afterwards, the scientists extract all the fat from the cooked chook, and weigh it.
The results? Well, the only surprise, is there is no big surprise."The broiled sample had the lowest amount of fat, which we would expect, it was about one and a half percent. The sautéed sample was about two percent, a little bit more than that, and the fried sample surprisingly was about the same as the sautéed sample. So deep-fat frying didn't add considerably more fat to the product than sautéing," says Dr Handel.
But remember, normally we deep-fry in batter, and that absorbs a lot more fat. Regardless, grilling is clearly the leanest way to cook your meat. To remind us why we care about that, Leila has popped over the road to the University of Pennsylvania.
Cardiologist, Dr Muredach Reilly, is very much a grill man, not a fryer. "For example if you fry your food in butter or trans fat vegetable oils you get a lot of additional saturated and trans fats which are bad for your cholesterol and bad for heart disease. Grilling will avoid that exposure," he says.
It's the old good fat versus bad fat. The bad ones are saturated fats found in red meat, cream and butter, and trans fats, found in some margarines and cooking oils. Good fats are found in vegetable and fish oils and they won't raise your cholesterol.
"If you have a very poor, high fat diet during your life the chance of developing heart disease comes earlier with that. Whereas if you've a very healthy diet with low saturated fats and lots of fibre, fish fats then you've less chance of developing heart disease at an earlier age," says Dr Reilly.
So grilling's better for your heart. But that's not the whole story — when it comes to grilling, or more particularly, barbecuing.
The long-held tradition of cooking on hot coals is under threat. Scientists have made an alarming discovery — the food may be grilled but it's still bad for your health.
In California, bio scientist Dr James Felton has spent 25 years studying the science of cooking meat. Disturbingly, he believes barbecued food might contain chemicals that cause cancer.
"When we cook meat, especially on the barbecue, there's actually two kinds of chemicals that will form. But the US national tox [health and toxicology] program gives these compounds the second highest rating — in other words, they're presumed that they will cause cancer," says Dr Felton.
Those carcinogens form in two ways:
- First when fat drips on the coals, flaring up and blackening the meat.
- The second type forms when you cook your meat at a very high temperature, say 270 degrees.
But will it really give you cancer?
"So have we proved it? In my mind no. Are we pretty convinced? In my mind yes, it's very hard to prove that something causes cancer, especially from the diet," says Dr Felton.
Before you use your barbie as a boat anchor, here are some alternatives:
- You can cook more safely by moving the coals to one side, to stop the fat dripping onto them.
- Try cooking on the hotplate instead of the open grill.
- Cook at lower temperatures.
To finish, one from the 'have your cake and eat it too' file: Americans are so unwilling to give up their deep fried food, biochemist Dr Stephen Kelleher has come up with a way of making it a little healthier. It's a protein coating that prevents fat soaking into your food when you fry it.
"That means you can take things like fried chicken, fried fish and you could now instead of having 12 to 14 grams of fat per 100g portion you could have three to four," he says.
Looks like the age of healthier fried foods may soon be upon us but in the meantime remember that saturated fats are bad for your heart so moderation is the key.