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For many people Memorial Day means breaking out the grill.  And as the summer gets underway, more and more people will be heating up their BBQs daily.

But did you know that grilling meat can produce toxic carcinogens?  When red meat, poultry, or fish are cooked at high temperatures they produce carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). In addition, when animal fat drips down onto hot coals, the resulting flames can carry other carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that then rise up and coat the meat.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up your Memorial Day BBQing to avoid these toxins! There are a few easy ways to prevent this! Just follow these tips to enjoy a tasty and toxin-free BBQ over the holiday weekend.

1. Get Marinating!  You can actually use everyday herbs and spices in your kitchen cabinet to both counteract and also drastically reduce the carcinogens formed when you grill meat…

Marinating meat even for just 30 minutes (the longer the better though) has been shown to limit the formation of HCAs and PAHs that can form. (This is also what the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends).

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In addition to infusing your food with flavor, a number of spices seem to offer particular protection, including rosemary, thyme, red pepper, oregano, sage, garlic, basil, parsley and onion (especially rosemary; studies show that compounds in rosemary block the formation of HCAs).  And acidic bases are also helpful in reducing toxins that can form.  So try marinating your beef, pork or chicken in a mixture of lemon juice (or other citrus juice), balsamic vinegar, olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices before grilling this weekend!

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2.  Stick to leaner cuts of meat or trim the fat.   This means there will be less fat to drip onto the hot grill to form those PAHs in the smoke that will deposit on your burgers and steaks!

3. The shorter the cooking time at high heat, the better.  To limit exposure to the high heat of the grill, the National Cancer Institute recommends precooking meat in the oven or on the stove for a few minutes so that it doesn’t have to stay on the grill for as long but you still get that great grilled flavor.  Also, the more well-done a meat is cooked, the higher concentration of carcinogenic HCA’s can form, so rare, medium-rare, or medium are actually healthier choices than well-done from this perspective.

4. Removed charred parts of the meat before you serve/eat it.

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5. If you’ve got some time to spare, cook your meat at a lower temperature on the grill.   HCAs begin to form at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  As long as your meats are cooked at safe minimum cooking temperatures suggested for food safety, this will prevent those toxins from forming.

6. Skip piercing your meat. Skip piercing to see if it’s done or to flip it since doing so causes more fat to drip onto the flames, causing more PAHs with more smoke to billow onto your food. Best to use tongs to flip the burgers and chicken breasts.

7. Antioxidant-Rich Side Dishes!  In addition to those antioxidant-rich marinades, load up on other antioxidants with a nice green side salad or some red and blue berries to get in the spirit of the holiday. Fruits and veggies are rich in naturally-occurring, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and may help combat the effects of any overdone meet. Washing down your barbequed meal with a glass of unsweetened iced tea (rich in antioxidants) is great too!

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8. Grill some Veggies! Fruits and veggies only need a very short time on the grill to take on that great smoky flavor! (But charring vegetables on the grill creates different carcinogens such as acrylamides, so don’t char them either!)

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9. Skip the processed meat. Those hot dogs and sausages you might contemplate grilling have been associated with increased risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancers. So stick with some good grass-fed beef, organic chicken or turkey, veggie burgers (portobello mushrooms make great burgers! LOTS of Google recipes :-) ).

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10. OR avoid grilling altogether and have a Memorial Day chili!   When you cook meat in a water base as opposed to grilling, broiling, or searing, you eliminate the HCAs. So for example, meats cooked in a soup, or meats cooked in a crock pot will not have the problem of the carcinogenic HCAs. So maybe some Memorial Day crock pot chili with grass-fed beef, organic pasture-raised ground turkey or all bean veggie style? Lots of healthy slow cooker recipes here that look pretty good or there is always the google cookbook: Just search for “healthy [Insert your choice here: turkey/beef/vegetarian] chili crock pock recipes” and there are tons! And I really recommend this organic clay slow cooker – it’s SO easy to create delicious one pot meals and it keeps all the nutrients in your food! )

For more information on the research being done on the toxins produced when grilling meat see the National Cancer Institute’s page entitled Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk

Thanks to all the men and women that serve our country and Happy Memorial Day!!

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One Response to What You Need to Know to Avoid Toxic Carcinogens When You Grill

  1. […] To commemorate the Fourth of July, I thought I’d share just a few more important tips and reminders if you’re eating or cooking BBQ this holiday AND a few tips to keep our favorite furry friends healthy and happy this holiday and summer too!  See the previous Healthy Grilling Tips post for a full list of healthy grilling tips and tricks! […]

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