Summertime means trips to the beach, parties in the pool and cookouts. Cooking on the grill is a summer staple. And while they do provide some health perks — fresh air, home cooked meals, and time with friends and family — they can also come with risks. Follow this healthy grilling guide to make your grilled meals better for you.
Grilling or barbecuing meat at high temperatures leads to the production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds known as “mutagens” which damage DNA and may increase the risk for developing cancer. HCAs are formed when amino acids and sugars that are present in meat react under high temperatures. Additionally, liquid fat drips into the flame of a barbeque and create smoke filled with PAHs, coating the surface of the meat. While the best solution is to use other cooking methods when possible, there are several simple ways to balance the effects of grilling your favorite foods.
Choose meat wisely Emphasize leaner cuts of meat. Less fat drippings mean less smoke and less exposure to PAHs. Also, remove the skin from poultry before cooking, therefore reducing HCA formation.
Marinate Not only does marinating meat impart more flavor, it can also protect against carcinogenic compounds. Acid-containing marinades (e.g., those containing vinegar or lemon/lime juice) are best to reduce the formation of HCAs. It is also important to note that traditional barbeque sauces, which tend to have a high sugar content, can increase the formation of HCAs. If using traditional sauces, they should be added to foods after they have been cooked.
Add herbs and spices Herbs and spices have been shown to significantly reduce the formation of HCAs when meats are grilled. Mint, onion, turmeric, garlic, rosemary, ginger, thyme, and red chili pepper are all great choices. These herbs can also be used in marinades, mixed into ground meats, or used as a dry rub.
Avoid over-cooking or charring The amount of time your meat contacts the grill makes a difference. Try quicker-cooking proteins like fish or shrimp, or cut your meats into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time (meat and vegetable kebabs are a great solution). Rotate meat frequently to allow the center to cook without overheating the surface. Blackened or charred areas of meat can also be removed to reduce exposure to HCAs and PAHs.
Try grilling other food groups Fruits and vegetables have been shown to inhibit activity of HCAs and reduce DNA damage caused by these compounds. Fortunately, antioxidant-rich produce can also be delicious when grilled. Try zucchini, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apples, peaches, pineapple, or even watermelon for a unique addition to your meal.
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