It’s that time of year… summer, 4th of July, barbecue. The coals will be red hot.
Have you ever worried about the potential health effects of a well-done barbecue? Here’s what you should know… and how you can have healthier cookouts.
Cooking meats, poultry or fish over an open flame barbecue can form compounds known as PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCA’s (heterocyclic amines). PAH’s come from flames created when fat drips from meat onto the grill. These compounds can also be formed during the process of smoking meats. HCA’s occur when amino acids, sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. In studies, HCA’s and PAH’s have been linked to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
The good news is that you can reduce the formation of HCA’s and PAH’s. Here’s how:
- Marinate. Studies have shown that marinating your meat before grilling can block HCA formation by up to 96 percent.
- Add rosemary. A 2010 study found that adding rosemary to your meat before grilling could cut down the HCA in the end product by over 90 percent. Other studies have found that including garlic, onions, tart cherries and honey in marinades may also help reduce HCA formation on cooked meats and fish. Herbs including basil, mint, sage and oregano may have similar effects.
- Select leaner cuts and trim away any visible fat to prevent flare-ups, which may deposit carcinogens on the meat.
- Flip the meat on the grill often. This will help reduce the amount of carcinogens that are potentially deposited on the meat.
- Reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat from the meat to drain.
Also what you grill is more important than how often you grill. High consumption of well-done, fried, or meats cooked at high temperatures are associated with increased risks of liver, stomach, colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
Grilling fruits and vegetables produces no HCA’s. Plant-based foods are associated with lower cancer risks.
Cookouts aren’t just for steaks and burgers. Anything can go on the grill… poultry, fish, vegetables, even fruit. Mix up protein and veggies by making kebobs — spear alternating slices of veggies and shrimp or chicken and marinate in your favorite sauce. A few minutes on the grill and you’ll have a delicious, meal.
If you’re looking for totally meatless main dishes try grilling an assortment of vegetables such as peppers, onions, eggplant, mushrooms asparagus and zucchini. Brush them with olive oil and garlic, grill them on both sides and then sprinkle on balsamic vinegar and chopped basil or tyme.
Bottom Line: Keep your grill. While some studies suggest that grilling produces compounds linked with cancer, the risks associated with eating grilled meats are relatively small when you look at the big picture.