How Can You Make Grilling Safe?

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It is grilling season once again in the United States and many Americans have plans for backyard summer events. Read what AICR knows when it comes to grilling and cancer risk.

“Research shows that diets high in red and processed meat increase risk for colon cancer,” said AICR’s Senior Director of Nutrition Programs, Alice Bender. “And grilling meat, red or white, at high temperatures forms potent cancer-causing substances. But by keeping five simple steps in mind, it is possible to make this summer’s backyard grilling both healthier and more flavorful.”

The first step you can take is to skip the red and processed meat and go for a choice of poultry or fish. Try mixing up your choice of meat for a more creative array of meals. Diets high in red meat (beef, pork and lamb) or processed meats (hot dogs, sausages) can increase the risk of colon cancer regardless of how the meat is cooked.

The second step is to marinate the meat for at least 30 minutes. Charring and cooking meat, poultry and fish can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Marinating the meat for 30 minutes or more in a mixture that includes mild vinegar or lemon juice along with oil, herbs or spices can reduce the formation of HCAs.

Pre-cooking is the third step to reduce the risk of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another compound that can form in grilling. PAHs typically get into the meat through smoke. By pre-cooking your meat, you reduce the amount of time your meat is exposed to smoke, thus limiting the amount of PAHs on your burger or steak.

A fourth step is to use a low flame and keep your meat in the center of the grill while flipping the meat frequently, which can also reduce the risk of HCA formation. This will also keep the charring and burning to a minimum. When it comes time to serve, cut off any charred areas to further reduce your ingestion of potentially harmful compounds.

Lastly, as our Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND states in the video, “adding fruits and vegetables to the grill adds delicious flavor.” Mix your dishes up and include colorful vegetables and whole grains for a variety of healthy spreads. Grilled vegetables and fruits can be a flavorful addition to your meal and HCAs don’t form when plant foods are grilled. So shifting the proportions in your meal to include more of these foods, you have a chance to make grilling delicious and healthy.


Author: Ben Smith

Ben Smith is the Digital Communications Manager at AICR. He manages several of the organization’s newsletters as well AICR’s social media.

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