A Better Way to BBQ
Grilling is a national summer pastime. Just the smell of barbecue conjures thoughts of days spent frolicking in the sunshine, playing in a pool or swinging from a hammock. But that deliciously blackened food contains something not so great – carcinogens, substances that can increase your risk of cancer.
How Grilling Creates Carcinogens
When meat is cooked at high temperatures, as is the case when grilling, the amino acids in the protein, sugars and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react and create harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Additionally, when fat and juices drip into the grill, it can cause flames to rise. The smoke and charring from the flames coat meat in chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Both HCAs and PAHs have an effect on your body's DNA, sparking mutations that can increase your cancer risk. But how you grill can make a difference in how many carcinogens you ingest.
A Safer Way to Barbecue
The good news is you don't have to give up your grill. A few tweaks in what and how you barbecue can make your meals healthier.
Ditch the barbecue sauce
The sugar in thick barbecue sauce can increase the level of harmful chemicals created during grilling. Opt for a low-sugar marinade or spice rub instead. You'll get bonus points for adding herbs like clove, allspice, oregano, thyme and rosemary, which are packed with disease-fighting substances called antioxidants that protect your cells from damage.
Trim the fat
Since fat drippings spark flames that coat meat in harmful chemicals, it's best to stick with leaner cuts like chicken most of the time. When cooking fattier beef or pork, be sure to trim excess fat so it doesn't melt and drip into your grill.
Veggies have a lot going for them – fiber, vitamins, minerals and a low calorie count. Turns out, they're also safer to grill. Vegetables don't have creatine or fat, both of which create harmful chemicals during the grilling process. Besides, meatier picks like grilled eggplant or portobella mushrooms taste great cooked on the barbecue. Need more ideas? Here are five veggies to add to your 4th of July BBQ.
Don't overcook meat
The longer meat is exposed to high heat, the more harmful chemicals can build up on your meal. Turn meat frequently and make sure it doesn't overcook. Avoid blackening foods and remove all charred bits of meat – the burnt bits are loaded with carcinogens.
Consuming barbecued foods is perfectly fine in moderation. Besides, it's almost a patriotic duty, at least come summertime.
If your friends and family love to grill too, don't forget to share these tips.
- National Cancer Institute - Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet
- United States Department of Agriculture – Barbecue and Food Safety: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/barbecue-and-food-safety/
- Mind Body Green - Here's How To Avoid Carcinogens When You're Grilling: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-13850/heres-how-to-avoid-carcinogens-when-youre-grilling.html
- National Center for Biotechnology Information – Antioxidants in Herbs and Spices: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92763/