You’re planning to grill up a delicious and nutritious meal for your family and your dear Aunt Sheila stops you in your tracks – Did you know your grill can kill?! That signature char, she claims, it’s carcinogenic!
Carcinogenic? you ask, unfamiliar with the word.
It means it causes cancer! This gets your attention, but before letting her convince you to serve fried chicken, you call your Health Advisor. Good thinking – our nutritionists have the inside scoop!
The Truth About Grilling
Grilling has a lot of benefits. You’re cooking for yourself (always a good call), you don’t need much oil (fewer calories without sacrificing on taste), and the experience of cooking and eating outside with your family and friends can be a boost for your mental health.
There is a risk that cancer-causing compounds can form in the grilling process: they’re called heterocyclic amines (HCAs, also found in cigarette smoke), and they form when you grill meat at a high temperature. Here’s the thing: risk goes up and down depending on what you’re grilling, how you’re grilling it, and what you’re grilling it with. Here’s the cliff notes version:
01 More Cooking = More Exposure
Well-done meat has 3.5 times more HCA than medium-rare meat.
02 Which Meat Matters
When you compare different types of meats, bacon has the highest concentration of HCAs, followed by beef and then chicken.
03 Good News for Veg-heads
HCAs result from the combination of creatine (an amino acid) and sugars that exist in all meats, but no fruits or vegetables. This means you can grill your onions, lettuce, bell peppers, corn, watermelon, and pineapple (to name a few) risk-free.
04 Risky Drippings
Another form of grilling-induced carcinogens, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), smokes up when fat drips into your grill. You can limit this by trimming the fat and putting a layer of aluminum foil between your flame and your meats.
05 Magic Marinades
Studies have shown a reduction in HCAs as high as 67% when meat is well marinated – especially if the marinade contains antioxidant-rich herbs and spices.
Long story short: grill responsibly.