WASHINGTON, DC – With the start of grilling season, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), a non-profit research and education organization studying the connection between everyday choices and cancer risk, has issued its annual advice on staying healthy and cancer-protective when cooking out.
What the Research Says
AICR’s experts say there is not yet enough evidence to know for certain that grilling meat specifically increases risk for cancers. But that shouldn’t preclude backyard chefs from taking a few simple precautions.
“Here’s what we do know,” says Alice Bender MS, RDN, Head of Nutrition Programs at AICR. “Cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Smoking or charring meat also contributes to the formation of PAHs. These substances are carcinogens, with the potential to cause changes in DNA that may lead to cancer.”
It’s important to remember that whether or not you grill them, the research is convincing that diets high in red meat contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and that even small amounts of processed meats, eaten regularly, increase risk for both colorectal cancer and stomach cancer.
Based on this convincing evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and saving hot dogs or other processed meats (bacon, sausages, etc.) for special occasions.
“What matters most is what you cook, not how you cook it,” Bender said. “It’s clear that what you eat day to day – focusing on vegetables, whole grains, beans and fruit over red meat – provides the most cancer protection.”
Five Steps for Safer Grilling
But there are ways to decrease potential risks that may be associated with grilling. Here are five simple guidelines from AICR:
1. Marinate: Studies have suggested that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. Scientists theorize that the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming.
2. 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.
3. Go Lean: 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.
4. Mix It Up: Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing in veggies can help shorten cooking time.
5. Go Green: Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs — and diets high in plant foods are associated with lower cancer risk.