7 Guidelines for Healthier Grilling

Research has suggested a link between grilled food and cancer, but you can cut down on that risk with these simple tips for healthier grilling.

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Stay clear of burned steer.

Stay clear of burned steer. iStockphoto/Thinkstock
If well-done burgers or charred hotdogs are your thing, you might want to read this: Regularly consuming well-done or charred meat may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent, according to a University of Minnesota study that tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period. Why? Cooking meat at a high temperature causes chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form. These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that can lead to cancer.

Try chooser leaner meats and trimming the fat well before grilling, because when fat and juices drip from meat, flames flare up and create more smoke, which leads to carcinogen formation. Also, flip frequently to reduce HCAs by 75 to 95 percent, according to Nutrition Action Healthletter. If you do char your meat, trim it away before eating.

Marinate your meat.

Marinate your meat.
Scientists aren't sure why, but a marinade acts like a barrier between your meat and carcinogens. The American Institute for Cancer Research says marinating meat for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs. The type of marinade might even be a factor, according to researchers from Kansas State University and The Food Science Institute who found a steak cooked in a Caribbean marinade had an 88 percent drop in HCAs, while an herb marinade accounted for a 72 percent drop and a Southwestern mixture had a 57 percent drop in bad compounds.

Cut back on grill time.

Cut back on grill time.
Cooking meat for a long time also leads to formation of carcinogens, because you are exposing it for a longer time to smoke and flames. Try fish, which cooks significantly quicker than chicken or beef, or make skewered kebobs with cubes of meat, which will take less time to be done. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests zapping food in the microwave before throwing it on the grill, and according to Nutrition Action Healthletter, you can eliminate 90 percent of the HCAs by microwaving first. Be sure to place any partially cooked meat immediately on the grill to protect against bacteria and other food pathogens that cause illness.

Avoid processed meats.

Avoid processed meats.
Skip the hotdogs and sausages. They might taste good, but cancer-causing substances form when these meats are preserved, says the American Institute For Cancer Research, which can lead to an increase in colorectal cancer. 

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Keep flames at bay.

Keep flames at bay.
If you can, turn your grill to a low-heat setting, which makes it harder for meat to burn or char. To prevent meat from sticking and burning, oil the grill rack. You can also avoid flames near your food by placing meat or veggies on a sheet of foil (for meat, poke holes to let the fat drip), which will protect food from smoke and cut back on flame flare-ups. 

Grill veggies or fruit.

Grill veggies or fruit.
You can still enjoy that grilled flavor you love and reduce your cancer risk by swapping meat for veggies, veggie burgers, or fruit, all safer choices because HCAs and PAHs form in muscle proteins. Bonus: phytochemicals found in fruits and veggies may actually reduce certain types of cancer.

Clean the grill.

Clean the grill.
Scrape down your grill when you're done cooking to get rid of carcinogenic residue that can build up. With a dirty rack, you run the risk of transferring those leftover chemicals to your food next time you grill.

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