Healthy Living Tips  |  Posted 09.29.14

Grill Smart This Summer

Grill Smart This Summer

By Karen Schnaekel, RDN, CSO, LDN
RCC Dietitian

Grilling season is just around the corner. As we all fire up our grills for the backyard barbecue, we need to consider the potential risks of preparing meats on the grill.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a diet high in meat, no matter how it is prepared, has been linked to increased risk for certain cancers. AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week; processed meats, like hot dogs, should be avoided.

Research has shown that when meat is grilled, several hazardous chemicals can form. Substances in red meat, poultry, and seafood can form cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) when reacting with high temperatures, such as on a grill. These HCAs can then enter our DNA and cause damage that can lead to cancer development. As fat from the meat drips onto the grill, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. These, too, are cancer-causing, and are deposited back on the meat by smoke and flare-ups. While it is known that these substances are capable of causing cancer in laboratory studies, there is still limited research that identifies the real risks that come with regularly eating grilled meats.

Until more is known, it just makes sense to grill sensibly to decrease our exposure to these cancer causing substances. Here are some safe grilling practices:

  • Grill fruits and vegetables. They do not produce harmful HCAs.
  • Use lean cuts of meat and trim fat from meats to reduce drips and flare-ups that can contain PAHs.
  • Grill smaller cuts of meat which have shorter cooking times. Kabobs are a perfect choice.
  • Flip meats frequently, which speeds cooking time and helps prevent HCA formation.
  • Marinate meats. Marinating meats makes those dangerous substances less likely to form. Some research has shown that
  • marinating meats can reduce formations of HCAs by as much as 90 percent.
  • Reduce the cooking temperature. Even a slight decrease can substantially reduce HCA formation.
  • Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in it, to allow the fat to dip off and to limit the smoke coming back onto
  • the meat.

Now pull out your apron and spatula, and grill up a safe and healthy barbecue!