Reducing Cancer Risk in Grilled Meat

Grilling is a healthy, low-fat way to prepare foods because little to no added fat is required. But it is important to be aware that charring meat can increase the presence of two cancer-causing agents, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These carcinogens may form in the presence of fat and extreme heat.

PAHs are created when fat drippings from grilled meats create smoke. This PAH-filled smoke transfers onto the surface of the meat. HCAs are formed when compounds react inside meats, chicken and fish after grilling at high temperatures for long periods of time. In lab studies, PAHs and HCAs have been shown to trigger breast, colon and prostate tumors in mice. Researchers have also found that certain human populations who have consumed PAHs over long periods of time have higher incidences of breast and stomach cancer.

So should grilled meats be avoided? No. A few small steps can help reduce the risk of these cancer-causing compounds forming in your food.

  1. Precooking meat in the microwave for as little as one minute reduces grilling time and almost eliminates HCAs.
  2. Choosing leaner cuts of meat and trimming excess fat reduces the amount of fat that could drip into grill flames, decreasing the amount of PAHs that could form.
  3. Smaller portions of meat cook faster, cutting down on the time meats need to stay on the grill.
  4. Cook meat on the grill for as little time as possible. If you can, remove meats before they are well done and charred.
  5. Keep meats away from direct flames.
  6. Grill on medium heat instead of high heat to reduce charring. If meats begin to char, reduce heat further to complete the cooking process.
  7. Using marinades decreases meats exposure to cancer-causing compounds so fewer HCAs are formed.
  8. Drain marinades from meat so less liquid drips onto flames.
  9. If portions of meat do become charred, cut this portion off before eating.

The long, lazy days of summer are the perfect time to take advantage of healthy cooking methods and heaps of fresh produce. This year, walk away from your cookouts feeling like you did something good for your health and diabetes. We hope our Summer Grilling Series has given you some tips and tools to make this summer your healthiest yet! It’s easy to enjoy yourself and stick with your diabetes management goals too.

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