Healthy grilling for this summer, and beyond

Healthy Grilling

As we look forward to summer picnics and barbeques, you might want to take a second to explore the potential health risks associated with grilling meat and learn what to do to minimize the potential dangers.

Healthy grilling is easy when you know some basic facts about how grilling affects our food.

The problem with grilling meat at high temperatures is that it can result in the formation of two dangerous compounds: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

So what the heck are HCAs are and why are they dangerous?

HCAs are cancer-causing chemicals that form when muscle meat, such as beef, pork, poultry and seafood, is cooked at high temperatures. HCA content increases as the exposure to intense heat increases. People who consume a lot of well-done, broiled, fried or barbequed meats have been shown to have a higher risk of developing some types of cancer, like colon and breast cancer.

What about PAHs? Why are they dangerous?

Like HCAs, PAHs are another type of cancer-causing compounds that form in smoke when fat drips onto a flame. The smoke then transfers the PAHs onto the outside of the meat during cooking.

So how do you reduce or eliminate your consumption of these risky compounds?

  • Choose a different cooking method: oven roasting, stewing, poaching and boiling all generate fewer HCAs.
  • Pre-cook meats in the microwave: microwaving decreases the HCA content of foods by releasing certain compounds so they cannot react on the grill, and it decreases the amount of time the meat is exposed to the heat.
  • Marinate your meat: according to the American Institute of Cancer Research, marinating reduces HCA formation by up to 96 percent. As a bonus, marinated meat tastes like 127% better than un-marinated meat. That’s scientifically proven. (Not really.)
  • Add cruciferous vegetables: eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage (think cole slaw!) might change the way your body metabolizes HCAs.
  • Avoid well-done meats: using an instant-read thermometer will help you determine when your meat is fully cooked without overcooking it. Avoid meat that is charred, burned or dried out.
  • Make kabobs: cutting meat into smaller pieces before cooking allows the meat to cook faster. Plus you can add lots of vegetables.
  • Choose lean meats: leaner meats will drip less and cause less smoke to form PAHs.
  • Grill fruits and vegetables!

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