Cooking on the grill is one of the best treats of summer. However, grilling can create some less-than-desirable chemicals, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a result of grilling fish, seafood or red or white meat on high heat. These compounds have been linked to breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancers. Grilling also creates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a chemical that results from smoke rising and sticking to the meat being grilled, which often occurs because of fat drippings and juices.
Joanna Lipp, a clinical nutrition specialist at UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute, shares some tips to help you grill food that contains fewer carcinogens and chemicals.
What to Grill
Lean cuts of unprocessed meat are ideal. Avoid all processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages, because they contain chemicals that may be even more harmful than those created from grilling. Even processed meats made from turkey or chicken contain high levels of carcinogens. Some examples of healthful grilling meats include chicken breast or hamburgers made with 90 percent lean ground beef.
When using meat, choose smaller cuts because the less time it has to spend on the grill to be fully cooked, the better. Kebabs are a tasty, fun idea for small pieces of lean meat.
Another great option to consider is grilling vegetables or fruits, which don’t have the protein meat has that transforms into harmful chemicals. Just make sure they don’t char. Studies show that more fruit and veggies can be beneficial in preventing cancer, so substituting some for meat is a terrific idea!
Once you’ve chosen what you’ll cook, it’s time to get the grill out. Be sure to keep your grill clean because old chemicals can build up and end up on your food. If you’re cooking meat, make sure to trim any fat and remove excess skin. Keeping these on the meat can cause flare-ups, which increases the carcinogens on the meat.
Using marinades that contain herbs and spices can cut carcinogens on the grilled items in half. For best results, marinate for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. But don’t stop there. Consider incorporating spices into your meat mixture, too, if you’re making burgers or another mixed meat item from scratch.
Lining your grill with foil in the areas you plan to cook on can also be helpful in keeping your food away from direct flame. Be sure to poke holes in the foil so that drippings can escape.
Now You're Cooking!
Once everything’s cooking, remember to flip often to keep food from burning on one side. If something gets charred, get rid of it. Keep in mind to grill it for as little time as possible. Meat and poultry need to be fully cooked, but the less time it spends on the grill, the better.
Finally, even if you do all of these actions, there will still be some carcinogens on any grilled food. Therefore, it’s important to use the grill only occasionally. Save it for special meals or very hot days. Enjoy!
Joanna Lipp, MS, RD, CNSC, CSO, is a clinical nutrition specialist with UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute. She counsels cancer patients and survivors on nutrition and eating healthfully.