Nothing says summer like firing up the grill and throwing on some burgers and dogs, but if you are committed to making healthier choices this summer you may want to rethink what goes on that grill. While grilling may seem like a healthy choice (less fat, less clean up) there are some pretty hefty risks to consider.
High-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), these are chemicals that have been linked to a number of cancers including breast, stomach, colon, and prostate.
PAH’s are created when fat and juices from meat products drip down to the heated surface of a grill and create smoke, or a flare up. This smoke contains PAH’s and can be deposited on your food.
Don’t let these carcinogens get you down! Just follow these 6 healthy grilling tips to reduce your risk of consuming cancer causing carcinogens.
- When in doubt go VEG!
Opt for vegetarian fare, when you are grilling veggies as opposed to meat, you can say sayonara to HCA’s and PAH’s. Woop! Woop! But don’t get stuck in a boring veggie rut try these Cedar Planked Stuffed Mushrooms, trust me you won’t miss the meat in these babies. This recipe has all the components of a delicious burger, meaty portobello mushrooms, bread, and cheese. Mix things up on the grill try these black bean burgers, or make some veggie kebabs or even grilled fruits for dessert. Veggie creativity my friends!
- Reduce grilling time.
You know what’s the worst on the grill? Boneless, skinless chicken breast. Bleh. Why? Well, it typically takes the longest to cook. In a 2010 report from the cancer project a grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast topped the charts at 14,000 nanograms of HCA’s per 3.5 oz serving. Only 10-20 nanograms of a common type of HCA called PhlP will practically double your risk of breast cancer! Ditch that boring chicken breast, or if you must have it, bake it in the oven first and finish it on the grill. Typically choosing meats with less fat will reduce your risk of exposure (or being sure to trim visible fat from meat before grilling) but in the instance of chicken, it seems that the amount of time on the grill supersedes the reduced fat. Reducing grilling time for all meats will make a difference, so begin the cooking inside and finish on the grill. Choose items that need less cooking time like wild fish, or veggie filet kebobs. Listen up well-done burger lovers, I am talking to you!
- Give your meat a bath before cooking.
Or as some people like to call it a marinade. Allowing meat to marinate in an antioxidant rich concoction for at least 30 minutes before grilling can reduce HCA’s by 57-88%! Rosemary, citrus, wine, and beer specifically have been shown to reduce HCA’s. Nothing simpler than chopped fresh rosemary, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice for your steaks and chops will do the trick. Do you have a favorite summer marinade?
- Create a barrier between the heat and the meat.
Grilling on a Cedar Plank (like I did for the stuffed mushrooms above) or on tin foil reduces your exposure to these cancer-causing compounds and also reduces the fat flare-ups from meat juices dripping on the heat source. I personally love a cedar plank, it imparts a truly unique flavor and I find it very simple to work with.
- Put your meat down, flip it and reverse it.
Flip your meat often and remove any charred bits. Also be sure to keep your grill clean and free of carcinogenic residue.
- Upgrade Your Sides!
Studies have shown that eating antioxidant rich side dishes with your grilled foods is a great idea! Try these Abra approved side dishes:
The truth is that hot dogs rank in higher on the carcinogenic scale than cigarettes. They are worse for you than cigarettes, or at least that’s what the Cancer Project says. Eating 50 grams of processed meat per day (ahem. ONE hot dog) increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 21%. Pop that dog on the grill and the risk is even higher. A good note for all of my parents out there, I know kids love their hot dogs but that’s a pretty high risk.
It’s helpful to switch over to an organic unprocessed dog, nitrate free. Second, how about having just ONE hot dog this summer? It should be treated as a truly once in a blue moon food. Save those dogs for a once in awhile treat, deal?
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