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Research has suggested a link between grilled food and cancer, but you can cut down on that risk with these simple tips for healthier grilling.

Red meat, the quintessential barbecue fare, has been tied to an increased risk of colorectal (and other cancers). Making matters worse? The exposure to potential cancer-causing compounds inherent in the grilling process.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up the grill. A little bit of preparation, creativity and healthy food choices can really make a big difference in making grilling healthier!

Turn down the flame

Regularly consuming charred meat may increase your risk of developing cancer. Specifically, they produce HCAs (short, for heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). HCAs form in the meat, while PAHs are found in the smoke and can stick to the surface of the meat. Lab studies have shown that both of these compounds can alter our DNA and that, in turn, can increase cancer risk.

Choose lean meats

Research shows that diets high in red, and processed meats, increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb) may also up your chances of developing pancreatic and prostate cancer, according to a study published in 2015 in The Lancet Oncology. The American Heart Association recommends keeping meat portions to about three ounces.

Flip often

Push the coals to the edges of your grill, cook the meat in the center and flip it frequently. This can prevent smoke from directly hitting the meat. This cuts down on PAH formation, which happens when fat and juices from the meat drip onto the fire, producing flames and smoke. In addition to grilling and pan frying, PAHs can also be formed when smoking meat. The compounds are also found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes so yet another reason to stay away from these pollutants.


A marinade acts like a barrier between your meat and carcinogens. This is a very critical step. Studies suggest that marinating meats for about 30 minutes before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. On the other hand, you don’t want sugar-laden marinades or fatty concoctions. Instead, try a mixture of oil, vinegar, lemon juice with herbs and spices to add flavor.

Quicker is better

Cooking meat for a long time also leads to the formation of carcinogens, because you are exposing the food for a longer time to smoke and flames. Try fish, which cooks significantly quicker than chicken or beef (especially when cut into smaller portions). You can also cut back on grill time by precooking any meat in the oven. This reduces the time meat is exposed to that smoke and reduces the chance PAHs could form. Be sure to place any partially cooked meat immediately on the grill to protect against bacteria and other food pathogens that cause illness.

Avoid processed meats

Skip the hot dogs and sausages. They might taste good, but processed meat—which also includes corned beef, bacon, and beef jerky—has been classified as a carcinogen by scientists with the International Agency for Research on Cancer. They concluded that every additional 50 grams of processed meat (four strips of bacon or one hot dog) raised the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Clean the grill

Scrape down your grill and grill pan when you’re done cooking to get rid of any carcinogenic residue that has built up. Also, make sure you get rid of any food still stuck to the grill. With a dirty rack, you run the risk of transferring those leftover chemicals to your food the next time you fire up the grill. It may help to use foil to help keep the grill clean and reduce flare by preventing juices/marinades from dripping or small veggies from falling in.



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