How to Reduce Cancer Risk When Eating Grilled Meat

Evidence suggests that grilling meat may increase the risk of cancer. As Americans are already preparing for their traditional July 4th barbecues, a dietitian reveals how to enjoy meals safely.

Nearly seven in ten Americans grill on the Fourth of July, and 88% of barbecue attendees prefer meat or steak.

Amy Pendleton Kay, a registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching, says there is substantial and quality evidence that shows cooking meats at higher temperatures and exposure to smoke leads to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals.

The chemicals produced by grilling are carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are also found in vehicle exhaust emissions. Exposure to these carcinogens has been linked to various cancers, including colon, stomach, prostate, and breast cancer.

Kay tells Heathnews, “We still need more studies related to the effects of grilling animal proteins and cancer risks, but it is best to practice caution, and this is especially true if you frequently grill animal proteins.”

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Tips for a safer barbecue

One barbecue is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer. However, if grilling is part of your lifestyle, it is necessary to take precautions. Cancer is on the rise among young people, and some types, such as colorectal cancer, can be attributed to modifiable risk factors like a poor diet.

Kay explains that HCAs are formed when animal proteins from red meat, white meat, and fish are exposed to high heat. The longer the protein is cooked using the higher heat, the more carcinogen is produced.

Amy P. Kay
Amy P. Kay

The concentrations of HCAs can be recognized as black char on grill grates or burnt edges on meat. To reduce HCA production, Kay recommends the following:

  • Don’t leave the meats on the grill for a prolonged time, but make sure the meats are properly cooked for food safety.
  • Use smaller cuts of meat to reduce cooking time.
  • Marinate meats prior to grilling. Use a variety of herbs and spices in your marinade to achieve the maximum benefit.
  • Add barbecue or other sauces at the end of cooking to help prevent the food from charring.

As PAHs form due to exposure to smoke, it is important to reduce the amount of excess smoke while grilling:

  • Try to avoid adding marinades while cooking, especially oil-based marinades.
  • Try sticking to leaner meats when possible and trim any excess, visible fat, as meats higher in fat tend to have more smoke-causing fat drippings.
  • Use grill pans or foil.
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Consider adding fruits and vegetables to your meal, as grilling them does not produce HCAs, according to the Cancer Center. Moreover, they contain fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals believed to have cancer-prevention benefits, potentially counteracting the risks of eating grilled meat.

Choose citrus-based marinade — antioxidants in the citrus may offset the chemical effects of the carcinogens.

You can enjoy a barbecue this Independence Day and stay safe; just remember to take precautions when preparing and cooking meat.

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