Picnics and barbecues are a summertime ritual for many, but did you know that cooking food on a grill may increase your risk of cancer? Grilling meat at high temperatures produces carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). And when fats drip onto hot coals or heating elements, additional cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid HCAs and PAHs:
- Use the leanest cuts of meats and poultry. This is not only heart-healthy, but limits the amount of fat that drips onto the grill.
- Reduce grilling time by cutting your meat into small chunks or precooking it in a microwave for two to five minutes. This can decrease HCAs by 90 percent.
- Marinate your meat and add herbs. Even a few minutes of marinating sets up a barrier against heat that dramatically reduces the formation of HCAs. Make sure your marinade recipe includes an acidic component (lemon juice, orange juice, vinegar), combined with your favorite herbs and flavorings (rosemary, onions, garlic).
In fact, rosemary alone makes a big difference. Studies show that adding it to meat before barbecuing dramatically reduces HCAs, which scientists attribute to rosemary's potent antioxidants: rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid.
Although traditional marinades include oil, it’s not necessary; omitting it will reduce smoking on the grill and minimize the formation of PAHs.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have a healthy grilling recipe you’d like to share?