Summer is in full swing, and many of us are regularly firing up the grill. Grilling provides great flavor without adding extra fat like frying. However, some studies have suggested there may be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high heat techniques such as grilling. It is believed that high heat grilling can convert proteins found in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). This happens when the high temperature changes the shape of the protein structure in the meat. These chemicals have been linked to some types of cancers. Another cancer causing agent, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the smoke from grilling. These substances form when fat and juices from meat cooking on the grill drip down onto the heat source. Follow these tips to help reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents while still eating the grilled foods you love.
- Choose meats wisely. – Avoid grilling high-fat and processed meats like ribs, hot dogs, and sausages. Limit red meat, and choose chicken or fish more often. Choose lean meats which create less dripping and therefore less smoke. Trim excess fat, and remove skin before grilling. Opt for smaller cuts of meat which require less cooking time.
- Try a marinade. – Choose marinades made with vinegar or lemon which will form a protective layer on the meat and reduce HCA formations. Go for a thin marinade since thicker ones tend to char, which might increase exposure to cancer-causing agents. Marinate food in the refrigerator rather than on the counter. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve some ahead of time so it doesn’t touch the raw meat or poultry.
- Reduce grilling time. – Always thaw meat before grilling. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing. You may want to partially cook meats in the microwave before grilling to reduce cooking time and the risk of smoke flare-ups. Be sure to put the meat on the grill immediately after microwaving.
- Clean and oil the grill. – Cleaning the grill after each use prevents harmful substances from building up and transferring to your food. Use a wire brush to give your grill a good cleaning, and then wipe it down with a cloth or paper towels. Lightly oil the grill to keep charred materials from sticking to your food.
- Flip often. – Flipping foods often will prevent burning or charring. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. You can visit www.befoodsafe.org for a chart of safe cooking temperatures or click here to download page. When the food is done, place it on a clean platter. Never use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry.
- Consider food placement. – Place food at least six inches away from a heat source.
- Create a barrier. - Line the grill with aluminum foil perforated with holes to keep juices from spilling and producing harmful smoke.
- Add veggies to the menu. – Try grilling your favorite vegetables. They do not contain the protein that forms harmful HCAs.
Some things just call for a barbecue. If you are grilling and following proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling foods is very low. Enjoy summer by choosing healthful foods for a healthier you!