Grilling linked to cancer; tips for a healthy barbecue

An outdoor grill can be as dangerous as a cigarette.

“Marinate your meat,” Jeannie Moloo, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association said in a newsletter from Harrison Medical Center. “The moisture helps the meat cook more slowly and reduces charring.”

This tip comes along with many others about the dangers of cancer and grilling, but experts say there are ways to reduce the risk.

Choices, like the food you eat, how you prepare it or how long you cook it are all important to your overall health, especially where grilling is involved.

Grilled meats, including poultry and fish, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer because of the production of two different cancer-causing compounds: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCAs are formed when meats cut from muscle are cooked quickly at high temperatures and can increase your risk for developing breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

PAHs are created when the fat from meat drips onto hot coals or stones. These compounds form in the smoke created by the dripping waste.

What you eat is still more important than how you cook it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Reducing cancer risk can be achieved by choosing a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods; avoiding foods high in fat and salt; and eating only enough food to help you reach or maintain a healthy body weight.

Fruits and vegetables cooked on a grill can help alleviate contact with PAHs and HCAs.

Grilling meat also is possible, but exposure to PAHs and HCAs can be reduced by marinating, choosing lean meats, reducing charring, reducing grill time, eliminating drips and flipping frequently.

The AICR recommends marinating foods in a non-metal container for at least 30 minutes; trimming any fat and removing skin from poultry before grilling; eating more fish than red meat; grilling food at lower temperatures by turning the gas down, raising the grilling surface or cooking after charcoal turns into low-burning embers; removing charred or burnt sections from meat; grilling meat in smaller portions that cook more quickly; cooking meats first in the oven or microwave and then finishing them on the grill for just a few minutes; using tongs or a spatula instead of piercing meat with a fork; covering the grill surface with punctured aluminum foil; and grilling hamburger patties at a lower temperature and turning them frequently to help prevent the formation of HCAs.

Another issue with grilling tends to be food safety, according to Moloo.

“People often forget to wash their hands frequently when they barbecue,” she said.

There are a few things that can be done to increase food safety while grilling.

Never reuse marinade that’s been in contact with raw meat — not even if you boil it; don’t baste with marinade that has touched raw meat; marinate all meats in the refrigerator, never on the counter or near the grill; always use separate cutting boards, dishes and utensils for raw meat; cook vegetables on the same grill surface as meat, but only if the meat was thoroughly cooked; use a food thermometer as it is the only way to make sure food is fully cooked; and scrub your grill with hot, soapy water before each use.

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