in the spotlight

Guide to Healthy Grilling

May is the month to break out the grill, marinate some fresh food and cook up something healthy. It’s also the month that the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is inundated with questions about potential cancer risks associated with grilling. Below is advice from the AICR when it comes to grilling.

The Research

AICR’s expert report and updates say there isn’t enough evidence to show that grilled meat specifically increases risk for cancers. But we do know that cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates cancer-causing substances, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.
Risk of these carcinogens forming is higher from red and processed meats – like hamburgers and hot dogs. Smoke or charring also contributes to the formation of PAHs. Evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from hot dogs or other processed meats.

Guide to Safe Grilling

While there does exist limited but suggestive evidence that compounds produced in meat through the grilling process (HCAs) factor in human cancer, AICR has determined that top priority should be what you choose to cook, not how you cook it. AICR offers these guidelines for healthy grilling:

  • Studies have suggested that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. To avoid food poisoning, be sure to discard the marinade in which you soaked uncooked meat, poultry and fish after you remove the food for grilling. If you want some for basting, set aside a bit – about one-third of a cup – before you’ve put the meat in to marinate.
  • Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing with veggies can help shorten cooking time.
  • If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time your meat is exposed to the flames by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first. Immediately place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill. This helps keep your meat safe from bacteria and other food pathogens that can cause illness.
  • Trimming the fat off your meat can reduce flare-ups and charring. Cook your meat in the center of the grill and flip frequently.
  • Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs and plant-based foods are actually associated with lower cancer risk.
  • Flip meats with a spatula or tongs to avoid piercing that lets juices run out.
  • Use tinfoil between the meat and the flames.
  • Keep a water spray bottle on hand to keep flames in check.
  • Don’t squirt starter fluid into coals while meats are cooking.

For winning marinade recipes to flavor your food, click here!