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Grilling Facts & Tips for Cancer Risk Reduction!

I know a lot of people think summer is grilling weather, but where I live, in the South, the summer is SOOO HOTT!! And standing near the grill with my drink in the burning hot humidity is not very fun. Unless you happen to have a pool and a floatie nearby!

For me, I find fall and spring to be some of my favorite months to grill. I love to be outside and the flavor that the food gets from the grill is so delicious!

When it comes to cancer risk, there are some easy ways to make sure that your grilling habit is promoting good health.

Does Grilling Increase Cancer Risk?

Grilling meat, fish, or other foods with intense heat on the grill leads to formation of potential carcinogens. These substances include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in flames that can stick to the surface of meat.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in meat when its proteins react to the intense heat of the grill. In lab studies these substances have been linked to development of cancer through changes to the DNA.

The good news is that there are easy ways to reduce the formation of these carcinogens.

Use These Grilling Tips to Reduce Risk!

  1. Include plenty of fruits and veggies.
    PAHs and HCAs are only formed when flame touches meat. Veggies and fruits are delicious when grilled and don’t form cancer causing substances.
  2. Cut meat into smaller pieces.
    Smaller pieces cook quicker and therefore have less exposure to flame.
  3. Pre-cook larger pieces of meat.
    For larger pieces of meat, pre-cook in the oven or microwave and finish on the grill. This minimizes time touching the flame, but keeps the grill flavor!
  4. Marinate the meat.
    Marinades help provide a protective barrier on the meat so that the flame doesn’t cause the cancer causing substances to form. They also add great flavor!
  5. Cook meat in a foil packet or with a barrier.
    Cooking your meat in a foil packet or on a grilling plank will protect it from the flame and therefore not form any PAHs or HCAs.

Which meat is best?

Here are a few questions to consider when deciding what type of meat to grill:

  1. How Often?
    • If this is a special occasion, and not a meat that you eat regularly (multiple times a month), then it doesn’t matter what you choose.
    • If it’s something you eat 3-4 times a month, it’s recommended to avoid processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, bacon, etc.
    • If it’s something you eat multiple times a week, it’s recommended to limit red meat to 18 oz or less per week.
  2. Is chicken or turkey an option?
    • Most people think of hamburgers and hot dogs for grilling, but having grilled chicken or turkey is delicious! The best option is to grill marinated pieces of chicken or make burgers out of ground turkey meat.
    • Note that turkey or chicken hot dogs are still considered processed meats.
  3. Could you serve seafood?
    • Seafood is healthy, not to mention quick and easy to cook on the grill! Shrimp kabobs, salmon in a foil packet, or a gilled tuna steak can be simple & nutritious crowd pleasers.

Balance your plate

Remember that if you eat meat, you don’t need much. A serving of meat is 3-4 ounces (about 21-28g of protein). Three ounces of meat looks like a deck of cards or can of tuna. Nine ounces a day would meet most people’s needs.

When choosing meat options to grill, choose lean meats most of the time. This helps reduce any fat dripping off the meat and causing the flame to “flare up.” Flame touching the meat contributes to formation of PAHs.

Balance your plate with the right portion of grilled meat and plenty of delicious plants!

Happy Grilling!


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