Love grilling, but heard that it might hold some health risks? Here’s what you need to know… and how you can have healthier cookouts!
It is true that cooking beef, poultry, fish or pork over an open flame can form compounds known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) on the surface of well-done meat. PAHs come from flames created when fat drips from meat onto the grill. PAHs can also be formed during the process of smoking of meats. HCAs occur when amino acids, sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures.
In studies, HCAs and PAHs have been found to cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer – but those studies were done in animals, and with extremely high doses of HCA and PAH.
While the jury is still out on exactly how HCAs and PAHs affect humans, you can take steps to reduce your exposure. Here are some ways:
- Marinate! Studies have shown that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease HCA formation by up to 96%.
- Add rosemary. A 2010 study found that adding rosemary to your meat before grilling could cut down the HCA in the end product by over 90%! Other studies have found that including garlic, onions, tart cherries and honey in marinades may also help reduce HCA formation on cooked meat.
- Select leaner cuts (and trim any visible fat), to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which may deposit carcinogens on the meat.
- Flip the meat on the grill often.
- This will help reduce the amount of carcinogens that are potentially deposited on the meat.
- Reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat from the meat to drain
- Also what you grill is more important than how often you grill. Although research has not established a definitive link between HCA and PAH exposure from cooked meats and cancer in humans, high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats are associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
Remember, though, cookouts aren’t just for steaks and burgers. Anything can go on the grill… even vegetables and fruit. Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs, and plant-based foods are associated with lower cancer risk. Plus, they’re delicious grilled –here are some ideas:
Mix up protein and veggies by making kebobs — spear alternating slices of veggies and shrimp or chicken and marinate in your favorite sauce. A few minutes on the grill, and you’ll have a delicious, easy lunch dinner.
If you’re looking for totally meatless main dishes try grilling tofu, pizza, even polenta!
For side dishes, grill up the best produce that summer has to offer like corn-on-the-cob, squash, asparagus, sliced eggplant, bell peppers and onions. I coat them with olive oil and garlic, grill them on both sides and then sprinkle on balsamic vinegar and chopped basil or parsley.
And don’t forget dessert! For a sweet treat, try Grilled Peaches with Cinnamon and Yogurt.