Grilling makes food taste good and is fun to do in the summer, but it may increase the risk of certain cancers. This is because grilling at high temperatures can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are chemicals that have been linked to a number of cancers including breast, colon, stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
A second mechanism by which grilling increases cancer risk is through the production of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. When the fat and blood from meat products drip down to the flames, smoke is produced. This smoke contains potential cancer-causing chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). As smoke rises up past the food, the carcinogens can be deposited on the surface of the meat.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the risk of cancer from grilling. The first thing that can be done is to choose meats that are leaner and lower in fat. Less fat, less PAHs. Also, trim the excess fat and skin from the meat prior to cooking. A second thing that can be done is to get one of the new, convection grills, where there is a metal bowel on top of the flames. Third, don’t cook your meat well done, as the charring (black lines) is evidence of HCAs. You can precook your meat for a few minutes in the oven or microwave, so it doesn’t get exposed to as much high temperature grilling. Keep the temperature of the grill lower, as higher heat leads to more carcinogens. Flip the meat often so that it is less likely to char on the outside. Fourth, marinating your meat for 30 minutes has been shown to reduce cancer causing chemicals. Include some fresh herbs in the marinade, like rosemary or thyme, which have anticancer properties. Fifth, avoid grilling processed meats like sausages and hot dogs, as these have additional cancer causing compounds.
Grill up a bunch of veggies, which have no cancer-causing chemicals. That’s right, plant foods do not produce HCAs and PAHs! So grill some colorful veggies like bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, sweet potatoes, red onions, and asparagus. You can also grill fruits, like pineapple and papya. Just throw them on the grill with some olive oil or coconut oil on them. They’ll come out deliciously roasted – the perfect partner to your seafood or meat – and so easy! You might want to use a grilling basket or a grilling tray, so you don’t lose the veggies, that can slip through the grill.
Clean your grill thoroughly with a scraper after and before use to get rid of carcinogenic residue that can build up. If your grill is dirty, you may transfer leftover chemicals to your food the next time you grill. If your meat does char some, take the time to scrape off the blackened parts before eating.