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Get the grill going! But beware of what may be sizzling over the flames


Dana-Farber offers tips to reduce your cancer risk while grilling

Summer is just around the corner and that means plenty of picnics, parties and barbeques. While the wonderful aroma of your favorite foods on the grill can make your mouth water, there are some caveats you should know before you dig in. All that grilling may be cooking up cancer-causing chemicals, warn experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Those chemicals have been linked to breast, stomach, prostate and colon cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

But Stephanie Meyers, RD, LDN, CNSD, a Dana-Farber nutritionist, says that doesn't mean you have to give up summer time treats like grilled burgers, steaks and ribs. "It's really about being careful and making wise choices."

There are two risk factors to keep in mind. First, research has shown that high-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemicals have been linked to a number of cancers.

Another cancer-causing agent, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the smoke. PAHs form when fat and juices from meat products drip on the heat source. As the smoke rises it can stick to the surface of the meat.

"The main cancer causing compound that occurs in grilling comes from the smoke," says Meyers. "So you want to reduce the exposure to that smoke."

What can you do to lower your risk? Here are some tips to make sure your summer grilling is safe.

stephanie-meyers.jpgStephanie Meyers 

Prep the meat

  • Choose lean cuts of meat, instead of high-fat varieties such as ribs and sausage. Trim all excess fat and remove skin.
  • When using marinades — thinner is better. Thicker marinades have a tendency to "char," possibly increasing exposure to carcinogenic compounds.
  • Look for marinades that contain vinegar and/or lemon. They actually create a protective barrier around the meat.

Limit time — Limit exposure

  • Always thaw meat first. This also reduces the cooking time.
  • Partially cook meat and fish in a microwave for 60 to 90 seconds on high before grilling and then discard the juices. This will lower cooking time and reduce risk of cause smoke flare-ups.

Grilling techniques

  • Flip burgers often: Once every minute.
  • Place food at least six inches from heat source.
  • Create a barrier to prevent juices from spilling and producing harmful smoke. Try lining the grill with aluminum foil and poking holes, and cooking on cedar planks.

Choose wisely

  • Lean meats create less dripping and less smoke.
  • Choose smaller cuts of meat, like kabobs, as they take less time to cook.
  • Try grilling your favorite vegetables. They do not contain the protein that forms harmful HCAs.

"People need to put this into perspective," explains Meyers. "If you're grilling and following the proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling food is very low." Moreover, she stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables. Meyers adds, "Being overweight or obese, which are at epidemic levels in the U.S., are far greater risk factors for developing cancer than the consumption of grilled foods."

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

8/23/2017 5:13:06 PM
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