Summer is here, it’s Fourth of July weekend and the grills are out! Respected authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), frequently give advice such as, “grilled foods are generally considered a healthful choice.” On the other hand, you may have heard that grilled foods increase the risk for cancer. What are the facts and is there a safe way to enjoy grilled foods?
Grilling over high heat releases fat from cooking meat. That’s why grilled meats are typically lower in calories than the same meat fried and dripping with grease. However, high temperature and fat are also at the heart of a potential problem. According to the National Cancer Institute, chemicals that may cause cancer form when muscle meat (e.g., beef, pork, fish, and poultry) is grilled. Some of these potentially harmful chemicals form when fat burns over an open flame; others develop when high heat causes a chemical reaction in the cooking meat.
Animals exposed to very high levels of these harmful chemicals, called carcinogens, may develop cancer. The jury is still out on whether these carcinogens affect humans, but there are some limited scientific studies suggesting that high consumption of well-done, fried, and barbecued meats is associated with various types of cancer.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Well that’s a major bummer! Is there any way to make my BBQ safer?!” Yes! There are general guidelines to make grilling safer. The type of meat or food, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method influences the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. With that in mind, if only grilling will do, here are some tips:
- Clean the grill before cooking! The leftover char from that last cookout contains the chemicals we are trying to avoid.
- Avoid direct exposure of meat to open flame. “Flame-licked” meats have more carcinogens.
- Cook your meat thoroughly, but don’t overcook it – use a thermometer to achieve the proper internal temperature. Overcooking and prolonged exposure to high temperatures increases the amount of carcinogens in the meat.
- Partially cook your meat before grilling by parboiling or microwaving. This limits the amount of time the meat is exposed to high temperatures.
- Flip meat frequently as it cooks. This reduces the amount of harmful chemicals produced during cooking.
- Cook lean meats. Remove skin and visible fat before grilling. The more fat on the meat, the more fat there is to drip on coals or open flame resulting in carcinogen production.
- Remove heavily charred or burned crust from the meat before consuming.
- Grill vegetables and fruits instead of meat. Vegetables and fruits are not only tasty when grilled, they contain little to no cancer-causing chemicals.
- Marinate your meat before grilling. Marinades significantly reduce the amount of carcinogens in grilled meats as long as they do not contain a lot of sugar. Rosemary in the marinade seems to be particularly effective.
- Consumers are buying up infrared outdoor grills. There is not a link between infrared cooking and cancer, but infrared grills use a high amount of heat energy which can rapidly cook your food to a high temperature. Infrared grills are similar to cooking with a microwave by using electromagnetic energy (EM). Extremely high energy forms of EM radiation may pose a cancer risk, but infrared grills do not have enough power to alter or denature the protein in foods.
See you next week as we wrap up our Four Finds series!
Medcor has moves!
As a little extra motivation, each week the Better Me Wellness program showcases Medcor Associates and friends moving and grooving for their good health!
Want to show us your moves? Please submit your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you may find your name in print.
Medcor Associate Kimberly Wrightington snaps a picture as she walks the river path at Assembly Row in Boston!