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13 grilling tips for reducing carcinogens

We all love to grill, particularly, in the summer when it is too hot to turn on the stove, but outdoor cooking accompanied by a cold beverage is very pleasant, particularly if your husband or significant other is manning the grill. (pun intended!)

13 Grilling Tips | Something New For Dinner

The downside to grilling meat

There is one significant downside to grilling meat. Grilling meat at high temperatures  (325 degrees F and higher) combines amino acids and creatine to create heterocyclic amines (HCA's). Fat dripping on to hot coals creates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) in the form of smoke, that bathes the food on the grill and deposits the PAH's on your food. Both HCA's and PAH's alter DNA and are linked to higher rates of many cancers.

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13 tricks for reducing the formation of HCA's and PAH's

1. Don't burn or char your meat.

If you do, cut off the charred portions. 

2. Trim excess fat and grill leaner cuts.  

Reducing fat-caused flare ups will reduce the formation of PAH's.

3. Line your grill with a sheet of foil.

This will also serve to reduce flare ups.

4. Marinate your meat before you grill it.

Studies show marinating meat for as short as 10 to 30 minutes reduces the formation of HCA's. Marinating beyond 30 minutes does not provided added protection, just added flavor. Effective marinades include: oil; beer, particularly dark beer; wine; vinegar; herbs high in antioxidants, particularly rosemary; spices such as galangal, turmeric, cumin and coriander seed; and garlic and onions. 

Studies show marinates can reduce carcinogens by as much as 96%. Some marinades are more effective than others in reducing carcinogens. Fortunately you don't have to pick one, you can combine these ingredients to make your grills healthier and tastier.

5. Avoid commercial marinades.

Most commercial marinades, particularly barbecue sauce are high in sugars, which can triple the HCA load. Likewise, it is a good idea to also avoid adding sugar to your homemade marinades.

6. Clean your grill.

Brushing down the grill every time you use it removes stuck on bits of char that will add HCA's to your food.

7. Oil your cleaned grill.

Oiling your grill is another way to prevent food from sticking. Stuck bits of food are more likely to char and create HCA's. Another trick is to rub your hot grill with the cutside of an onion half.

8. Flip your meat frequently.

This helps reduce char. I know, many people adhere to the old flip-only-once rule. This myth has been broken with many tests. The new rule of thumb is to flip every minute or so. This results in more even cooking, shorter cooking times, better flavor and guess what? Less formation of HCA's.

9. Cook over lower heats for shorter time periods.

Lower heats result in less charring and shorter cooking time results in less HCA's. One study showed well done meats have 3.5 X more HCA's than medium rare. And besides, who likes well done meat?

10. Cook more fish and less meat and poultry.

As if we didn't need another reason to eat more fish. Fish is lower in amino acids, the culprits that form HCA's, compared to meat and poultry.

11. Avoid grilling bacon, hotdogs and other processed meat.

These foods already contain cancer causing substances due to their preservatives. Compound this with their high fat content, which provokes flare ups and the situation is not good. I know this is a darn shame.

12. Grill more fruits & veggies.

Particularly cruciferous veggies. The good news is that grilling fruits and veggies does not create HCA's or PAH's. If you want to take that further, eat more cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts) grilled or otherwise. These veggie superstars actually protect against dna changes that can lead to cancer.

13. Microwave for 2-3 minutes before grilling.

I know this seems very wrong. I have not tried it, but studies show microwaving reduces cooking time and HCA's by as much as 90%. My friend, Madonna, microwaves her bacon briefly to render some of the fat before she cooks it. Maybe this way we can still grill bacon?

Bad news!

I could not find any research showing that enjoying a glass of red wine while grilling reduces carcinogens.

Bonus tip:

This one is not carcinogen related, but I think it will get your attention. Clean your grill after you use it as well as before by preheating it for 20-30 minutes and thoroughly brushing down your grill. One British study showed that the average grill contains 2 X more germs than a toilet seat. Yuck.


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