Consuming grilled meats may be linked to an increased risk of breast, stomach, prostate, and colon cancer, finds research.
But Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, a Dana-Farber nutritionist, said that doesn't mean giving up those tasty summer time treats like burgers, steaks, and ribs.
"It's really about planning ahead and making wise choices," he stated.
There are two risk factors to keep in mind. First, research has shown that high-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemicals have been linked to a number of cancers.
"What happens is that the high temperature can change the shape of the protein structure in the meat so it becomes irritating in the body and is considered a carcinogenic chemical," explained Kennedy.
Another cancer-causing agent, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the smoke. PAHs form when fat and juices from meat products drip on the heat source. As the smoke rises it can stick to the surface of the meat.
"That's where the main cancer causing compound occurs in grilling. So you want to reduce the exposure to that smoke," said Kennedy.
Here are some tips to lower the risk:
Prep the Meat
Choose lean cuts of meat, instead of high-fat varieties such as ribs and sausage.
Trim all excess fat and remove skin.
When using marinades - thinner is better. Thicker marinades have a tendency to "char," possibly increasing exposure to carcinogenic compounds.
Look for marinades that contain vinegar and/or lemon. They actually create a protective barrier around the meat.
Limit time - limit exposure
Always thaw meat first. This also reduces the cooking time.
Partially cook meat and fish in a microwave for 60 to 90 seconds on high before grilling and then discard the juices. This will lower cooking time and reduce risk of cause smoke flare-ups.
Flip burgers often - once every minute for meat burgers - to help prevent burning or charring.
Place food at least six inches from heat source.
Create a barrier to prevent juices from spilling and producing harmful smoke. Try lining the grill with aluminum foil and poking holes, and cooking on cedar planks.
Plan ahead and choose wisely
Lean meats create less dripping and less smoke.
Choose smaller cuts of meat, like kabobs, as they take less time to cook.
Try grilling your favorite vegetables. They do not contain the protein that forms harmful HCAs.
"If you're grilling and following the proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling food is very low," said Kennedy.