Outdoor Grills Annandale VA

At high heat, the protein in beef, pork, poultry, and fish reacts with a compound in muscles called creatine to form cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Numerous studies have found an association between eating barbequed, well'done, or fried meats and an increased risk for cancers of the breast, pancreas, stomach, and colon.

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Good Eats for Summer Grilling

Provided by: 

By Evelyn Spence

You’ve made the potato salad, chilled the beer, and covered the patio table with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. On the grill, steaks and burgers sizzle over white-hot coals. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing—except for the sizzling. If that meat sits on the barby over too high a temperature for too long, it can harbor newly created carcinogens.

At high heat, the protein in beef, pork, poultry, and fish reacts with a compound in muscles called creatine to form cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Numerous studies have found an association between eating barbequed, well-done, or fried meats and an increased risk for cancers of the breast, pancreas, stomach, and colon.

To add fuel to the proverbial fire, another set of carcinogens, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), form when fat or juice from the meat drips onto the coals and burns. The PAHs rise in the smoke and deposit on the grilling food. Animal research has shown exposure to PAHs damages the reproductive system and skin, impairs the ability to fight disease, and increases cancer risk. As for PAHs’ risk to humans, “We’re talking about more of an association with cancer rather than a proven risk, and we’re still learning, but it’s still a good idea to reduce your exposure however you can,” says Mark Knize, an analytical chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, who has spent a decade studying carcinogens in grilling.

But don’t chuck your Weber yet. A few adjustments to your grilling routine can reduce or even eliminate carcinogens in your barbequed food.

Lean, mean grilling machine

Start by choosing your meat wisely. Fatty cuts of beef and pork pose the most risk, followed by chicken with the skin still on it. “A lot of chemicals in the fat drip off, hit the briquettes, and then get infused into the meat when there are flare-ups,” says Dave Grotto, director for Nutrition Housecall, an at-home nutrition counseling service. So trim off the fat, remove skin, and choose low-fat cuts.

Fish, especially leaner choices like sole, halibut, or bass, are much safer than red meats and poultry. Safer still: grilled vegetables and fruit. “Veggies and fruit don’t have the same chemical precursors, especially the creatine, that red meat or chicken or even fatty fish does, which means carcinogens don’t form,” says Bill Jameson, director of the Report on Carcinogens for the National Toxicology Program. Dairy, eggs, soy products, and organ meats also pretty much lack the building blocks for the carcinogens.

The marinating marvel
After choosing your chop, marinate it. Strong research has shown that this significantly reduces HCAs (though it won’t affect PAHs). A 1997 study in Food Chemistry Toxicology, for example, showed that marinating whole chicken breast in a mixture of brown sugar, olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and salt dropped HCA levels by about 90 percent. In a later study, researchers at the...

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