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To Grill or not to Grill: Cancer Risks

When we think of the joys of summer, cookouts, picnics and food cooked on the grill are quintessential summer foods. People enjoy having friends and family together and having barbecue meals. In fact, the average family grills 1-2 times per week during the summer. While food cooked on the grill can be delicious, it can also pose some health risks. In fact, quite a bit has been written about the grill being linked to cancer.

Do we have to give up grilling altogether or is there a safer way to enjoy cooking foods on the grill?

What is the problem with grilling? The two big issues with grilling are:

  1. The high temperatures that are created by a charcoal or gas grill 

  2. The meat drippings

Grilling with a high temperature can create something called HCA’s or heterocyclicamines. These are harmful chemicals that are created when proteins from meat and fish are grilled at a high heat. HCA’s have been associated with a number of different cancers.

The other concern with the grill is the fat and juices that fall onto the coals. This creates flames & smoke that can rise up and stick to the meat. This can create something called PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, another potentially harmful carcinogen.

Are there safer ways to grill? Yes, in fact there are ways to make your grilling more safe.

For people dealing with cancer or who want to eat a more anti-cancer diet, here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure that you clean your grill regularly. Old fat and juice deposits can build up on the grill and make it more susceptible to burns from the high heat.

  • Buy leaner cuts of meat– this will cut down on the amount of fat that drips into the bottom of the grill. Buy skinless chicken and ground beef that is 90% lean ground meat.

  • Trim the excess fat from the meat before you put it on the grill. This is especially true if you are cooking steaks. The fat is what gives the meat some if its flavor, but take care to cut off any obvious extra around the edges of the steaks.

  • Precook your meat in the oven and finish it off on the grill. Doing this means less cook time on the grill, but you will still achieve the wonderful grill effect.

  • Marinating your meat can also help. This can have an anti carcinogenic effect on the meat. Meats should be marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to cooking.

  • Heat one side of your grill and cook the meats more slowly on the other burner, away from the intense, direct heat. They may take longer to cook so factor this into your meal preparation time.

  • Don’t let your meat or veggies get charred. Cook on less intense heat and turn them often. Try to avoid anything that gets charred wherever you are eating.

It is possible to enjoy grilled food in the summer time if you are thoughtful enough to take some extra precautions.

Enjoy Your Summer Barbecue!

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