Summer is officially here, and it's time to kick back and relax as your dinner cooks away on the grill. And while this may be good, healthy fun, the way you cook your meat might not be so healthy. Because if cooked incorrectly, grilling can cause your meat to form Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs), which studies suggest may cause certain cancers
“HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. Whatever the type of meat, however, meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300ºF (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs. HCAs […] become capable of damaging DNA only after they are metabolized by specific enzymes in the body, a process called “bioactivation.” Studies have found that the activity of these enzymes, which can differ among people, may be relevant to cancer risks associated with exposure to these compounds.”
To help combat the formation of HCAs on your meat, dietician Anne Ammons has come up with 6 grilling tips for safer meat cooking:
- Avoid flame flare-ups. Flare-ups—when the fire shoots up around your meat—greatly increase the chance of HCA formation.
- Marinate meat for 30 minutes before grilling – several studies suggest marinating meat leads to fewer HCAs.
- Limit portion sizes. Smaller pieces means shorter cooking time and less chance for HCA formation.
- Choose leaner cuts of meats. Leaner cuts cause less flare-ups, which means less chance for HCAs.
- Do not overcook* or burn meat. You may prefer your burger resemble a hockey puck, but excessive overcooking can increase the chance for HCAs. (*As always, follow the food safety recommendations for internal cooking temperatures for your meat. The USDA recommends an internal cooking temperature of 160 °F for ground beef. We’d hate to have you avoid HCAs only to get sick with salmonella.)
- Switch to fruits and vegetables. Grilled fruits and vegetables are delicious, and they don’t get HCAs!
For smarter grilling, it is never too late to try some delicious, nutritious grilled alternatives:
- veggie burgeportabella mushroom caps to replace a ground beef burger
- squash, peppers, or sweet potatoes
- grilled pineapple is a tasty dessert.