Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Practice smart grilling this 4th of July


blog smart grilling

With the July 4th weekend approaching, many of you will be heading to barbeques with family and friends. But before you fire up the grill, make sure you understand the risks, and how you can make healthy grilling choices this season.

Research suggests that grilling meats at high temperatures over an open flame creates chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer. The substances in meat react under high heat to form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can damage the DNA of our genes and potentially contribute to the development of certain cancers, specifically colon and stomach cancers.

Fortunately, healthy grilling is possible if you make the right choices. Here are some suggestions:

Prepare the grill properly. The smoke from a grill contains potential carcinogens. Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in it so the fat can still drip off, but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is lower.  

Choose lean meat. Select lean proteins like skinless chicken or turkey breast, flank steak and fish such as salmon, tuna and shrimp. When you do grill meat, trim any excess fat from meat, as less fat means less smoke. Also, limit portion sizes and flip meat frequently to reduce carcinogens that may arise.

Add more vegetables and fruits. Many of the chemicals that are created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits. Also, plant-based foods are actually associated with lower cancer risk. Try grilling asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, radicchio or romaine lettuce, eggplant, corn, apples and pineapple.

Use healthy flavoring. Using certain marinades and spices when cooking food on the grill can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent. For meats that are difficult to marinate, try kneading in herbs and spices with known health benefits to help block the formation of harmful chemicals. Turmeric, for example, contains an antioxidant with potential anti-cancer properties. A citrus marinade has vitamin C to protect the meat from forming cancer-causing compounds. Other options include: cumin, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, mint, dill, cilantro, sweet basil, thyme, tarragon and lemon balm.

Cook at lower temperatures. Cook smaller pieces, which cook more quickly and at lower temperatures. Avoid eating charring meat, which has the highest concentrations of HCAs. One study found that eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent. Other research suggests heavily charred meats have been linked to colorectal, stomach and breast cancers.

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