8 Ways to Make Summer Grilling Healthier
By Christa Orecchio
For many of us, summer eating means outdoor cooking and lots of barbeques. Grilling is a longtime fun tradition for so many of us—but did you know there are healthy and unhealthy ways to grill?
When we grill using high heat, proteins in meat and fish can get converted to something called heterocyclic amines or HCAs. These HCAs are chemicals that have been linked to tumors in animals as well as a greater risk of breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancer.
What happens is the fat and juices of the meat drip onto the grill, forcing smoke to be produced that contains carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Then smoke rises past the food, depositing these PAHs on the surface of the food.
Not to worry: I would never ask you to give up this time-honored tradition that has connected friends, family and neighbors since grills were first invented. There are many ways to take caution for safer grilling.
Outdoor cooking for safety, health
1. Avoid grilling processed meats at all costs.
Processed meats contain an entirely different set of potentially carcinogenic agents than unprocessed meats. So in my view, this means saying good-bye to hot dogs and sausages on the grill. Always grill unprocessed meats: grass-fed hamburgers or steak, organic, free-range chicken, and wild fish.
Studies show that marinating food prior to grilling reduces the levels of carcinogenic compounds. Lighter, thinner marinades seem to work best, as the thicker ones with sugar burn more easily. I’ve included two of my favorites, an Italian Marinade and a Mexican Pesto Marinade, both always winners in my household and cooking classes. Both can double as salad dressings or dips for your fun summer picnics.
3. Go lean.
Choose lean organic chicken and grass-fed beef or fish over fattier alternatives like ribs and sausage. There will be less drippings and therefore fewer PAHs.
4. Smaller cuts of meat.
Kebabs, anyone? Choosing smaller cuts of meat that take less time to cook will limit exposure to chemicals.
5. Mind the barbeque and hone your technique.
If you’re on grill duty, make sure you flip burgers every minute, keep food a good six inches from the heat source, and use cedar planks whenever possible to prevent the juices from dripping onto the grill. (Cedar plank wild salmon is delicious!)
6. Go for the veggies!
If you are a kebab type of person, try grilling fruit and veggies as well as meat or fish because they contain very little protein. So, there is no danger of conversion to the chemical HCAs that can cause harm. Having 50% of your plate as veggies is good for your health in many different ways. Grilled fruit and veggies make for fantastic salad additions when you add them to fresh, raw greens. Or just use them with dips for healthy picnic snacks or appetizers.
7. Ditch burnt meat.
As appealing as char-grilled may look, the charring is toxic and I always recommend cutting off burnt or charred parts.
8. Check your briquettes.
If you use charcoal briquettes, go for the natural ones made from either real wood or coconut, (there won’t be any coconut flavor in your briquettes). Not all briquettes contain the same ingredients. The largest briquette manufacturer lists their ingredients publicly.
Harvard Health Publications and Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center