The Truth About Grilling
It's an easy, low-fat cooking method that's a tradition in the spring and summer, or year round in warm climates.
But some reports say that grilling meat can produce an alphabet soup of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. Check out this report for the whole story.
Nothing signals summer like a red-hot smoky barbecue fire. But grilling red meat, poultry, and fish may pose certain health risks that consumers need to keep in mind. According to the National Cancer Institute, cooking these foods at high temperatures creates chemicals that aren't present in uncooked meats, and some of these chemicals may increase your risk of cancer.
What's Going On?
The risk from grilling happens in two ways:
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are potential cancer-causing chemicals that form when amino acids in meat react under high heat with creatine, a chemical found in muscle (meat). Higher heat and more well-done meat tend to raise the level of HCA content. In fact, the black char that forms on the outside of grilled meat is a concentrated source of HCAs and should be removed before eating, says Karen Collins, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Frying and broiling, like grilling, also can produce high HCA levels because these cooking methods use very high temperatures. Oven roasting and baking produce lower levels of these chemicals because of the lower cooking temperatures. Researchers have identified 17 types of HCAs that result from the cooking of muscle meats, including beef, pork, poultry, and fish, which may increase cancer risk.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are other substances that may increase cancer risk if consumed in large amounts. PAHs form when meat drippings fall on hot coals, and the resulting smoke rises and deposits PAHs on the surface of the meat. Fattier meats, such as sausage, ribs, and hamburger, drip more fat on the coals and tend to be higher in PAH levels after grilling than lean cuts such as London broil.
What Does It All Mean?
You don't have to give up grilling. However, you may need to change when you grill, what you grill, and how you grill. Here are some tips for a healthier barbecue:
Precook meat in the microwave, then briefly grill for flavor. Microwaving meat for 2 minutes prior to grilling it reduces HCA levels by as much as 90%, and draining meat juices lowers them even more.
Marinate meats before grilling to reduce the level of HCAs by as much as 92 to 99%. Vinegar, citrus, herbs, spices, and olive oil appear to serve as protective layers.
Make portions small and lean for a shorter grilling time. Flip often to minimize HCA accumulations.
Cover the grill with aluminum foil and poke small holes into it. This allows fat to drain but prevents some smoke from getting to the meat.
Load the grill with veggies and fruit, and grill less meat. Choose from an array of vegetables such as red, yellow and green bell peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, and potatoes.
Remove skin on poultry and fish when you grill. Skin contains a lot of fat and increases the amount of drippings, flare-ups and smoke. By removing the skin, you can lessen the exposure to PAHs.
Finally, think of the big picture. Enjoy grilled meats but only occasionally. Serve healthy side dishes such as romaine salad with low-fat dressing, grilled vegetables, and rolls made with whole grain.