It’s grilling season! There’s nothing like a cookout—friends, family, fresh food—but could using your grill be increasing your cancer risk? I hate to rain on your barbecue but the answer is yes. Grilling foods, especially meats, results in the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PACs). When ingested, these substances can alter DNA and increase the risk of cancer. Meat—beef, pork, chicken, fish—is muscle tissue. HCAs occur when substances in muscle (amino acids, creatine or creatinine and sugar) react with high temperatures. Think black, charred meat, that’s where you’ll find HCAs. PACs form when fat and juices drip down into the grill, causing smoke to rise. The PACs in the smoke stick to the outside of the meat, so when we eat it we ingest the PACs. But grilling is so tasty, and it’s also a great low-fat cooking method! How can we get around this? No worries, I’m going to share how to reduce your risk. Here are seven ways you can grill safely, to reduce the formation of harmful substances and enjoy your cook-out!


Cook meat at lower temperatures. Higher temperatures cause charring, and that’s where you’ll find the most HCAs.


Reduce cooking time by partially cooking meat in a microwave before grilling. Or choose quicker-cooking meats, like fish. Beef and chicken cut into small pieces and skewered will cook faster than large pieces of meat.


Frequently turning the meat over will reduce HCA formation by over 75%, so put that spatula to work!


Marinating helps protect meat from forming HCAs. When I’m in a hurry, I’ll buy a bottle of Italian vinaigrette, add it to a zip-top bag with some chicken and keep it in the fridge until grilling time—easy and delicious!


Clean and oil your grill so meat won’t stick and cause flames to flare.


Use foil as a barrier so rising smoke does not contact the meat. An alternative to aluminum foil is a stainless steel grill pan.


Cook veggies or veggie burgers, they may reduce cancer risk by increasing liver detoxification of HCAs.


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