Does Grilling Make Food Carcinogenic?

carcinogenic 1Nothing says summer quite like the sun, the beach and of course, a BBQ. But before you fill up that gas tank and fire up the grill, it’s important to remember this:

While BBQ meats can create a delicious summer meal, high temperature grilling can quickly make that perfect meal carcinogenic.  Wait, what? Yes. Read on.

How to keep this BBQ season healthy instead of carcinogenic:

What happens when you BBQ foods?

There are two types of chemical reactions that occur when you BBQ foods.

First, fat drippings from meat create smoke that is full of chemicals called PAH’s  (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

When the smoke surrounds the meat during the cooking process, it transfers these carcinogenic PAH’s onto the meat itself.

Second, when you grill meat at high temperatures (about 300˚ F or above) and/or for long periods of time, a reaction in the food occurs, creating HCA’s (heterocyclic amines).

Most HCA’s are found in meat that has been fried or grilled (both high temperature cooking methods).

Lower temperature cooking methods like boiling, baking or poaching tend to produce the least amount of HCA’s.

It’s also important to remember that both charcoal and gas grilling expose foods to high temperatures.

However, with gas grills you have the option of controlling the flame, and therefore the temperature.

Why should you care?

While researchers still aren’t 100 percent sure how much char is too much for human consumption, what we do know is that PAH’s and HCA’s cause cancer in animals.

The research in humans is not as abundant but preliminary research has shown a high correlation between colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer and HCA exposure.

Bottom Line: you want to try and limit your exposure to them as much as possible.

What can you do to reduce the carcinogens in your food?

Don’t ditch the BBQ this summer, just use these simple tips to make your cookout less carcinogenic:

  • Grill, Don’t Burn – Remember to cook meat until it is brown, not black.  Aim for cooking meat until it is medium rather than well done.
  • Go Lean – Lean meats are not only better for heart health, but can also help stop the formation of PAH’s.  Since fat drippings are key to PAH development, less fat means fewer carcinogens. Your heart (and waist line) will thank you, too!
  • Put Time into Prep – Marinating meat before cooking helps lessen HCA formation due to the antioxidants found in herbs and spices such as turmeric, basil, rosemary and oregano. Also, try cutting meat into small pieces as they will cook faster and spend less time on the grill, reducing the likelihood of carcinogen formation. Yep, kebabs, baby, kebabs.
  • Trim the Burn – HCA’s are only found in burned or charred parts so remove any burnt parts before serving.
  • Load up on Veggies – As the buildup of carcinogens is associated with grilling protein rich foods like chicken and steak, vegetables do not create these carcinogens when burned.  So load up the veggies on the grill!  Try grilling corn, asparagus or carrots…and don’t forget grilled fruit for dessert!

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