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June 26, 2018 | 3 minute read

Five Steps for Cancer-Safe Grilling

  • Cooking meat at high temperatures, as in grilling, can generate two types of cancer-causing substances – HCAs and PAHs
  • Laboratory experiments have shown that these substances can alter DNA that may in turn increase the risk of cancer

WASHINGTON, DC – Barbecue season is here and with almost three-quarters of Americans planning to grill on July 4, AICR is issuing its annual cancer-protective advice when cooking out.

What We Know

Grilling (broiling) and barbecuing (charbroiling) meat, fish, or other foods with intense heat on the grill leads to formation of potential carcinogens. These substances include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in flames that can stick to the surface of meat. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in meat when its proteins react to the intense heat of the grill. In lab studies these substances have been linked to development of cancer through changes to the DNA.

AICR recommends limiting or avoiding processed meat and choosing only moderate portions of red meat because even small amounts of processed meat, when eaten regularly, increase risk for colorectal cancer. Also, eating large amounts of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and so there are many reasons to get creative when it comes to you barbecue.

Get Creative

“Try barbecuing more plant foods. Grilled vegetables and fruits are delicious, they don’t form HCAs when cooked and they’re key elements in a cancer protective diet,” says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR.

AICR’s New American Plate model for cancer prevention recommends filling at least two-thirds of your plate with plant foods.  At your cookout, include plenty of colorful grilled vegetables and fruits like asparagus, red peppers, tomatoes, mangos and pineapple.

Five Steps for Cancer-Safe Grilling

AICR calls for attention to these simple precautions:

1. Marinate: Studies suggest that marinating meat before grilling can decrease formation of HCAs.

2. Pre-Cook: If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time your meat is exposed to flame by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first.

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 them with vegetables can shorten cooking time.

5. Go Green: Grilling of vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs. So, add veggies and cut down the amount of meats.

AICR Experts are available for interview on the subject:
Alice Bender, MS, RDN, Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR
Nigel Brockton, PhD, Director of Research at AICR

Additional Note to the Editor:
New Report and Recommendations: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective
American Institute for Cancer Research launches tools to help people adopt cancer-preventive lifestyles

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