Before I share why Chimmichuri sauce is brilliant and delicious, a bit of bad news for you…
Grilling meat generates not one, but two different classes of cancer causing compounds: Heterocyclic Amines and Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons.
Consumption of these compounds can lead to cancer by causing mutations to occur in genes. Indeed, one of the risk factors for colon cancer is frequent consumption of charred or grilled meats (1, 2, 3). And if that’s not enough, grilling meat also creates another unhealthy compound called an Advanced Glycation End product (AGE). AGEs accumulate in the body aging us prematurely and increasing the risk of diabetes, metabolic disease, kidney disease, heart disease, and Alzheimers disease. (4, 5, 6, 7)
But there’s good news…
The good news is that there are a lot of steps you can take to mitigate this risk and improve your health when consuming these foods. I was struck, not for the first time, by the incredible wisdom of traditional cuisine last night when I realized how perfectly suited our chimmichuri sauce was in mitigating the health risks associated with grilled meat.
Finely mince the garlic and shallots and leave out for 10 minutes
A potent phyto-nutrient found in garlic, Allicin, is formed by an enzyme (also found in garlic) but can only be formed in the presence of air. And that enzyme is damaged by exposure to heat. Letting your garlic sit for several minutes prior to cooking increases the content of the active constituent responsible for a lot of the healing effects of garlic (8). Meanwhile, combining garlic and onions (or in this case shallots), as has been done for ages in culinary traditions around the world, creates a synergistic combination that mitigates the negative effects of consuming fatty foods. (9).
Mince the jalapeño finely
The compounds in jalapeños protect LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation. It’s the oxidized LDL particles that represent the most significant risk to our arteries because when they deposit in the layers of our blood vessels they attract an immune cell response that swells the plaques and makes them unstable. Smoked Jalapeños were found to be particularly effective in this regard. I’ll have to try that next time…(10)
Mince the parsley, cilantro, and oregano or pulse in a food processor.
All of these herbs are powerfully anti-microbial. They are also packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients with a variety of useful properties in the body. Cilantro has been found to be protective for the same type of cancer that the compounds formed by grilling meat, Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons and Heterocyclic Amines, increase the risk of (11). Meanwhile, parsley specifically reduces the formation of Advanced Glycation End products (12).
Combine all ingredients together and add the vinegar and olive oil to create a thick sauce. Season with salt and add the lime juice. Adjust the flavor and consistency by adding more of any of the above.
Acidic preparations, when applied to meat prior to grilling also reduce the formation of Advanced Glycation End products. No wonder marinades are a common practice in culinary traditions around the world (13).
Use the chimmichuri both to coat meat prior to cooking and as a condiment eaten with your grilled meat. It offers a fresh, bright counterpoint to the filling umami of grilled meat. The flavors work so well, no wonder it’s good for you.
So, in short, try to respect the specific ingredient combinations and preparation techniques long held in our world’s culinary traditions. They are consistently reflective of a deep wisdom about optimizing health through food. That they arrived at these nuanced, protective, and synergistic pairings prior to our relatively recent understandings about the biological processes underlying their interactions with our health, offers a convincing bit of evidence to the premise that there are other ways to discover and know truth besides the reductionist view of modern western science.
By the way…
We offer nutritional consultations for our patients where we combine traditional culinary wisdom with modern research to create food plans that are science based, authentic, tasty and sustainable. Set up a free consultation to see if we can be of assistance to you.
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Kieran Jones MTCM L.Ac.
I'm Kieran, clinician and owner of Cotati Community Acupuncture. I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, and functional medicine practitioner for the past 14 years. I have a deep curiosity in health, biology, culture, medicine, history, and a healthy obsession with the pursuit of the perfect state of health.