Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Get Your Grill On: Reducing Cancer Risk

Wait...I thought grilling was a healthy, low-fat way to cook meat?

Don't worry--it still is. But it is important to be aware that charring meat can increase the presence of two cancer-causing agents, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These carcinogens may form in the presence of fat coupled with extreme heat.

PAHs are created when fat drippings from grilled meats create smoke, which transfers onto the surface of the meat. HCAs are formed when compounds react inside meats, chicken and fish after grilling at high temperatures for long periods of time. In lab studies, PAHs and HCAs have been shown to trigger breast, colon and prostate tumors in mice. Researchers have also found that certain human populations who have consumed PAHs over long periods of time have higher incidences of breast and stomach cancer.

So should grilled meats be avoided? No. And not to worry, grilling can still be the heart of your cookout. A few small steps can help reduce the risk of these compounds forming in your food.
  1. Precooking meat in the microwave for as little as one minute reduces grilling time and almost eliminates HCAs.
  2. Choosing leaner cuts of meat and trimming excess fat reduces the amount of fat that could drip into grill flames, decreasing the amount of PAHs that could potentially form.
  3. Smaller portions of meat cook faster, cutting down on the time meat need to stay on the grill. Butterfly or filet thicker cuts of meat to reduce cooking time.
  4. Cook meat on the grill for as little time as possible. If you can, remove meats before they are over-done and charred.
  5. Keep meats away from direct flames.
  6. Grill on medium heat instead of high heat to reduce charring. If meats begin to char, reduce heat further to complete the cooking process.
  7. Using marinades decreases meats exposure to cancer-causing compounds so fewer HCAs are formed.
  8. Drain marinades from meat before grilling so less liquid drips onto the flames.
  9. If portions of meat do become charred, cut this portion off before eating.
Keep watching for more cookout tips and recipes as the summer goes on. If you have any simple solutions for keeping good food good, please share!

Happy Independence Day!