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
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
What can you do to lower your risk? Here are some tips to make sure your summer grilling is safe.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (www.dana-farber.org)
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