How to Safely Grill; Decrease Your Risk for Cancer

By Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center

Warm weather and grilled foods often go hand in hand together. There is nothing quite as tasty as grilled meat, veggies, and even fruit (my personal favorite is red onion and pineapple skewers). However studies have shown that cooking meat at high temperatures causes carcinogenic chemicals, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), to form and attach to our foods.

Don’t despair! There are methods that have been shown to reduce (or even eliminate) HCAs and PAHs from adhering to your foods.

  1. Trim all visible fat to reduce drippings into the flame. The more smoke that is made, the more PAHs form.
  2. Marinate your meat in wine or beer. The antioxidants help the HCAs from forming.
  3. Rub fresh or dried herbs on both sides of your meat before grilling such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil. The herbs contain antioxidants which help prevent HCAs from forming.
  4. Precook your meat in the oven – the less time your meat is on the grill, the less charring will occur.
  5. Turn meat over frequently while on the grill.
  6. Remove any visible charred portions of meat.
  7. Choose fish or chicken rather than red meat, which some studies have shown can increase certain cancers. Avoid processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages – there is strong evidence processed red meats may increase cancer risk.
  8. Eat plenty of vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables, which have high amounts of antioxidants. Eating a diet rich in vegetables has been consistently associated with a protective effect against cancer.