You may or may not be aware that when an open flame touches meat, it forms compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These compounds actually have the opportunity to damage DNA and result in the growth of cancer cells.
This happens under the following two circumstances:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
- When the cooking method is grilling
- When the food item that is cooked is meat (either red meat, poultry or fish)
Don’t despair for your Memorial Day cookout though! There are a few easy tips to help you cut the risk.
All tips come from the American Institute for Cancer Research, an evidence based organization that reviews all of the recent studies on nutrition and cancer. Find more information on grilling here.
Get the Red (Meat) Out, Add Other Colors
Focus first on grilling colorful vegetables and fruits, and cut back on the amount of red and processed meat on your cookout menu. Plant foods contain a variety of naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals, many of which provide their own anti-cancer protection.
Grill vegetables instead of some or all of the meat. The following vegetables are quite tasty when grilled:
Simply cut them into chunks for kabobs, cook in a grill basket or aluminum foil packet, or toss with a small amount of olive oil and grill whole.
Fruit can be great on the grill too! Just cut them in half before putting them on:
- bananas (split lengthwise).
Use fruit that is about a day or two away from being completely ripe so it retains its texture. If you brush fruit or the grill with a bit of oil, it won’t stick, and remember to watch closely so it doesn’t get overdone.
Marinate the Meat
If you choose to grill meat, switch up they type of meat that you cook. Marinating meat has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs and it also makes the meat really tasty! Even just 30 minutes in the marinade can help. Keep the meat
marinating in the fridge while you get the sides ready.
You can do this in the microwave, oven or stove to help reduce the amount of time the meat sits on the grill exposed to high heat. For safe food handling, be sure to put the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill immediately to complete cooking.
In this case, the meat still gets the great grilled flavor without having to cook from start to finish over the flame.
Go Slow and Low
The goal for healthy grilling is to reduce the amount of HCAs and PAHs that end up in, and on, the meat. Part of the strategy for this is to slow down the cooking time by keeping a low flame and keep burning and charring to a minimum.
Ways you can do that include:
- cut off any visible fat (to reduce flare-ups),
- cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side (to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them) and
- cut off any charred portions of the meat.
Later this week, I’ll share a marinade recipe that I used for grilled chicken and a great quinoa recipe using grilled corn. Great for a cookout!