It’s May again, and that means it’s time to uncover the backyard grill and get cooking.
Every year at this time, we get many questions about grilling and potential cancer risk. If you share those questions, you’ve come to the right place: we’re the leading research institute in the field of diet, nutrition and cancer risk. Here is our advice on staying healthy and cancer-protective when cooking out.
What the Research Says
AICR’s reports say there isn’t enough evidence to know for certain that grilled meat specifically increases risk for cancers.
But here’s what we do know: cooking meat at a high temperature – like when grilling – creates substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Smoking or charring also contributes to the formation of PAHs. These substances are carcinogens, with the potential to cause changes in the DNA that may increase cancer risk.
And whether or not you grill them, high amounts of burgers and other red meats increase risk of colorectal cancer. Hot dogs and other processed meats increase risk of both colorectal and stomach cancers. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from processed meats.
Because what you cook matters most, cut back on red meat and replace hot dogs and sausages with fish, chicken, veggies and fruit. But when you do grill meat or other animal protein, follow these tips to help reduce formation of those risky substances.
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. Try these healthy marinades to give your dish an extra kick of flavor.
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 on the 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.
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 it frequently.
Mix It Up
Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing in veggies can help shorten cooking time. Need some inspiration? Try these amazing salmon kababs.
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.