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Heard that Grill Meat Contributes to Cancer Risk? Read this Safe Summer Grilling Guide

grilling meatI love BBQ season, and there is nothing better than meat fresh off the grill. However I always have this nagging feeling when I hear that flame, or smell the smoke that I am eating something totally toxic.  Here is what I do to compromise my love for grilling, with the reality of its risks.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods like grilling.  In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

HCAs are formed when amino acids sugars, and creatine react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when meat is charred or blackened or when fat and juices from meat drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Essentially, the hotter and longer a meat is cooked, the more HCAs and PAHs.

Interestingly, HCAs and PAHs can only damage DNA after they have been metabolized by certain enzymes in our bodies.  A process known as bioactivation. Different people have different levels of enzyme activity, which likely affects how their bodies process HCAs and PAHs — and thus, their potential disease risk.

Researchers have found that high consumption of well done, fried or BBQ meat was associated with increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

How to Safely Grill Meats:

  1. Use Spices: Certain spices have been found to reduce the formation of these harmful compounds in meats.

                      Mint Family – rosemary, basil, sage, thyme, oregano


                      Onion Powder

                      Fresh Garlic

  1. Marinate your Meat – Acidic marinades greatly reduce HCA formation. Vinegar, lemon or lime juice, yogurt…and yes even wine and beer!
  1. Don’t eat the charred meat – Try not to cook your meat to the point of being charred. But if you are served meat, make sure to cut off the charred parts
  1. Flip your meat – Some studies show that flipping your meat every minute will reduce the amount of compounds formed
  1. Cook your meats at moderate temperatures for moderate times. Both temperature and time exposed to heat will produce HCA’s so the moderate approach is best
  1. Cut your meat into smaller pieces  – to allow for faster cooking time
  1. Eat a lot of greens and colorful foods with it to serves as antioxidants


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