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How to grill safely this summer to reduce your cancer risk

  • Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD With the official start of summer June 21, 2015, it’s time to barbecue with family and friends, but grilling meat creates chemicals that may be linked to cancer.

    Research has shown that high-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs), chemicals that have been connected 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, causing smoke to form and stick to the surface of the meat as it rises.

    So before you fire up the backyard grill, review these tips from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute nutritionist Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, to help reduce your exposure to these potentially dangerous chemicals:

    • Choose lean cuts of meat, as they create less dripping and smoke, instead of high-fat varieties such as ribs and sausage. Trim all excess fat and remove the skin before grilling.
    • When using marinades – thinner is better. Thicker marinades have a tendency to “char,” possibly increasing exposure to carcinogenic compounds. Specifically, look for marinades that contain vinegar and/or lemon as they actually create a protective barrier around the meat.
    • Try grilling your favorite vegetables. They do not contain the protein that forms harmful HCAs, and are generally healthier than meat.
    • Reducing cooking time is key to preventing charring and the release of dangerous chemicals.
    • Thawing the meat before grilling it, and even cooking it in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds before putting it on the grill will help reduce the time the meat actually spends being grilled.
    • Flip burgers often, ideally once every minute.
    • Place food at least 6 inches from the grill’s heat source.
    • Create a barrier to prevent juices from spilling and producing harmful smoke. Try lining the grill with aluminum foil and poking holes in it, or cooking on cedar planks.
    • Choose smaller cuts of meat, like kabobs, as they take less time to cook.
    • For recipes, visit

Posted on June 19, 2015

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