Quinn on Nutrition: Grilling it right

September 2, 2019

Weíre fast approaching the last big national grill day of the year, I was reminded recently. Time to break out the barbecue.

And grilled is good for us, right? Itís better than fried and tastes soo much better than anything boiled or popped in the microwave.

Unfortunately though, there is a downside. According to the National Cancer Institute, when beef, pork, fish or poultry are cooked at high temperatures ó such as pan frying or over an open flame ó chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. Experiments in laboratories have found that these substances may increase oneís risk for cancer.

Besides high temperatures, these bad boys are especially prevalent when fat and juice from meat drip into the fire, causing flames and smoke, say researchers. Itís the smoke that contains PAHs that then stick to the surface of the meat. We get exposed to PAHs from car exhaust and cigarette smoke as well.

Donít throw out the grill just yet, though. There are some strategies that significantly reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs.

Donít cook it to death. Meat, poultry or fish that remain at high temps for a long time are most susceptible to the build-up of these substances. One method recommended is to cook the food in a microwave and finish it off on the hot grill, say some experts.

Marinate! According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, soaking your meat, fish or poultry for at least 30 minutes before grilling in a marinade that contains acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar can reduce the formation of HCAs by more than 90 percent.

Grill over heat, not fire. That way dripping grease doesnít cause a flare-up which releases dangerous chemicals back into the meat. Electric grills like the George Foreman Indoor/Outdoor grill work well without breaking the bank. These types of products let you lower your grilling temperature and are set up to let fat run into a trap away from the food. And hey, if it rains on your backyard party, you can still safely grill indoors, no worries.

Grill more vegetables. Because they are low in protein, they do not form HCA. And remember that colorful vegetables contain natural chemicals that help reduce the risk for cancer.

Grill smaller portions of meat. Kabobs, for example, that mix small amounts of meat with vegetables, cook faster and therefore spend less time cooking at high temps.

Refrain from indulging in charred portions of meat. Yes, I know, some of us consider this the tastiest part. Yet experts say avoiding charred meat and poultry can reduce our exposure to HCAs and PAHs.

Turn food frequently. This suggestion will go over like a lead balloon to steak aficionados. Yet researchers report that flipping meat often helps reduce the formation of HCAs.


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services