Get That Grilled Flavor, Healthfully

Healthy skin nutritionIn my latest On Nutrition column in The Seattle Times, “Diet and skin: your nutrition habits may be written all over your face,” I sing the praises of a produce rich diet (especially deeply colored produce) for keeping you healthy on the inside while making your outsides (your skin) look better, too. I mean, who doesn’t want to look better AND feel better while protecting their future health? That, dear readers, is what I call a win-win-win.

While what you eat matters to both skin and health, so does how you cook it. It’s summertime, which means few things are better than tossing dinner on the grill. Unfortunately, the process of grilling meats produces advanced glycation end products (AGEs), compounds which may increase the risk of cancer (science is still sorting this out), as well as contribute to premature aging in your skin.

Cooking the Anti-AGE Way

Cooking methods that use high heat and that brown protein-rich foods – including barbecuing, grilling, frying, sautéing, broiling, searing and toasting – dramatically increase AGE content. On the other hand, moist cooking methods like boiling, steaming, poaching, stewing or simmering help reduce AGE formation.

So what’s a grillmaster (or those who benefit from their efforts) to do? Marinate, or substitute. Marinating meat or poultry in acidic or citrus-based sauces can suppress AGE formation by up to 50 percent when cooking meat.

Smoky Flavor, No Grill Required

Lets say you decide to bust out your slow-cooker a little more often because it’s a low, slow, moist AGE-busting cooking method (and because it doesn’t heat up your house in the summer). How do you replicate some of that smoky flavor that makes grilled food so appealing? Here are three key pantry staples that can serve as a sort of substitute for the grill:

  • Smoked salt. In Seattle, we buy this at Whole Foods (more expensive) or Big John’s PFI, but other specialty stores and supermarkets may carry it. This course smoked salt, sprinkled on after cooking, delivers fabulous flavor. We use it on everything from veggies to fish to poultry to beef.
  • Smoked paprika. This fabulous spice is a deeply flavorful addition to marinades (!) and rubs. I’ll also use it by itself on meats and poultry.
  • Roasted red peppers. These give a hint of grilled flavor, and can easily be used in both cooked dishes and cold salads, straight out of the jar.

While we’re at it, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that whole, unprocessed foods and ingredients are lower in AGEs than processed foods. The act of subjecting food ingredients to extreme heat in act of industrial processing is rough on foods, depleting their natural goodness and upping the AGEs. Many processed foods are high in added sugar, sodium and lower-quality oils, none of which do you insides or outsides any favors, either.