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Is My Burger Really Healthy? – Shrobana Sengupta

Ever since I was little, I’ve always been an avid foodie. I love to try new foods and make sure to find new places to eat wherever I go. Regardless of all my experiences with food so far, only one stood out to be my favorite: burgers. I absolutely love to eat burgers, but after coming across an online article on carcinogens in grilled meat, I was worried. I learnt about how heterocyclic amines formed on charred meat cooked at high temperatures can increase one’s risk of cancer. So, I immediately started to look into how I can still eat my favorite food without worrying about the risk of cancer, resulting in one of my favorite science experiments so far.

According to a University of Minnesota study which tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period, regularly consuming well-done or charred meat may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent. However, I soon found out that marinades can help to reduce this risk. Marinades that can denature heterocyclic amines, which are proteins that cause these carcinogens to form easily, would prove the most effective. In order to see which marinades are the most effective, I looked into altering the pH of them.

I initially had hypothesized that marinades with either a very low pH or a very high pH would be the ones to reduce the amount of carcinogens formed since they are the most effective in denaturing the proteins. To test this, I made three marinades: a lemon marinade with a pH of 2, a vinegar marinade with a pH of 2.7, and a yogurt marinade with a pH of 5. The meat that it was tested on was chicken breast. I believed lemon juice marinade would be the most effective in reducing carcinogens, followed by the vinegar marinade, and then the yogurt marinade, which would be the least effective based on pH levels.

The materials used were meat samples weighing twenty grams, the three types of marinades, a grill, a gram scale, and xylene solvent. The process consisted of marinating the meat based on their restrictions, grilling them, letting them sit in xylene for 45 minutes, and measuring the weight afterwards. Xylene is a solvent which absorbs all hydrocarbons present in carcinogens and reduces the weight.

The results did support my hypothesis. On average, meat with the lemon juice marinade had the highest weight, which means it produced the least carcinogens, since the xylene absorbed less hydrocarbons. Meat with the yogurt marinade had the least weight, which means it produced the most carcinogens. The meat with the vinegar marinade was in the middle. This shows that the lemon juice marinade is the most effective when meat is marinated in it, while yogurt is least effective. I even had a control group, which was meat without any marinade, and this had the lowest weight, producing the most carcinogens compared to the other meat samples.

So next time you host a summer barbecue, take some time to marinate your meat instead of directly throwing them on the grill. Small changes like these can lead to a healthier lifestyle while still eating delicious foods like burgers and steaks!

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