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Guide to Healthy Grilling

Vegetable Kebabs GrillingMay is the month to break out the grill, marinate some fresh food and cook up something healthy. It's also the month that AICR is inundated with questions about potential cancer risks associated with grilling. As the leading research institute in the field of diet, nutrition and cancer risk, AICR has unique insight in this subject. From the science of HCAs to the magic of marinades, we're marking the unofficial start of grilling season by issuing our own advice when it comes to cooking out.

The Research

AICR’s expert report and updates say there isn’t enough evidence to show that grilled meat specifically increases risk for cancers. But we do know that cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates cancer-causing substances, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.

Risk of these carcinogens forming is higher from red and processed meats – like hamburgers and hot dogs. Smoke or charring also contributes to the formation of PAHs.

Evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats, contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from hot dogs or other processed meats.

Guide to Safe Grilling

While there does exist limited, but suggestive evidence that compounds produced in meat through the grilling process (HCAs) factor in human cancer, AICR has determined that top priority should be what you choose to cook, not how you cook it. Follow these guidelines for healthy grilling:

  • Marinate: Studies have suggested that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation fo HCAs. Scientists theorize that the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming. Try these healthy marinades to give your dish a kick of flavor.
  • Pre Cook: If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time your meat is exposed to the flames by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first. Immediately place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill. This helps keep your meat safe from bacteria and other food pathogens that can cause illness.
  • Lean Cuts: Trimming the fat off your meat can reduce flare-ups and charring. Cook your meat in the center of the grill and make sure to flip frequently.
  • Mix It Up: Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing with veggies can help shorten cooking time. Need some inspiration? Try these amazing salmon kababs.
  • Go Green: Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs and plant-based foods are actually associated with lower cancer risk. Check out some easy recipe tips for grilling your favorite summer veggies.
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