With the summer months quickly approaching, many Americans are firing up their grills with their favorite foods. While it was once thought that grilling food was a fool proof healthy cooking method, more recent research suggests that certain precautions must be taken to ensure a healthy meal. When meat is cooked at high temperatures (such as when grilling) carcinogenic substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. PAHs are formed both when meat is cooked due to the reaction between the amino acid creatine and sugar found in meat. PCAs are formed when the fat and juice from meat drip, creating smoke which then sticks to the surface of meats. Grilling vegetables and other non-meat foods do not form HCAs and PCAs. While it is not necessary to cancel this summer’s barbeque plans there are some small changes you can make to ensure healthier grilling.
- Clean your grill. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is commonly overlooked. Always be sure to clean your grill thoroughly after using. This will remove built up meat residue and substances from transferring onto your food.
- Choose healthy cuts of meat. While we should always avoid or minimize our intake of processed meats such as hotdogs, sausages, and bacon; throwing these foods on the grill ups the risk for formation of carcinogenic compounds. In addition, higher concentrations of HCAs have been found in pork, followed by beef, and then chicken. Cuts of meat lower in fat will also reduce fat dripping and formation of PAHs.
- Marinade your meat. It has been found that marinated meats produce less carcinogenic compounds than non-marinated meats. Make your own marinades as much as possible and avoid using sugary marinades and sauces on your meat. Marinades also add flavor and tenderness to meat!
- When grilling- Reduce grilling time, grilling temperature and flames, and avoid charring your meat. The longer the meat is exposed to the open flame and smoke the more HCAs and PAHs that are formed. Any charred areas should be removed before eating. Foil may also be used to create a barrier between flames and smoke with the food.
- Grill fruits and vegetables! These taste amazing when grilled. Branch out and try fruits such as pineapple, peaches, apples, figs, and bananas. Also vegetables such as asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes, onion, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, jalapenos, and corn. Get creative with your grilling and try a variety of grilled fruits and vegetables this summer!