Healthy Summer Grilling

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Healthy Summer Grilling

Chelsea Moore | Food & Nutrition, | August 01, 2017

Now that summer is in full swing, it's no surprise to see people outside enjoying the evening sunshine and warm weather while grilling up some delicious eats.  While barbequing is a great way to make tasty food and beat the heat, there are a few things to keep in mind while cooking on the grill to protect your long-term health.

Why worry? [A Chemistry Lesson]

experiment.jpgResearch has shown that two carcinogenic (cancer-promoting) substances called heterocyclic amines (HCA's) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) form when meats are cooked at high temperatures, such as on a grill or pan frying. Specifically, PAH's come from fat dripping on an open flame which causes more flames and smoke, and HCA's are created from a reaction of high heat, sugars, creatine (found in muscle), and amino acids (protein). When eaten, these HCA's and PAH's have been found to cause mutations in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

So what now? [The Action Plan]

Never fear - while the flames and heat from your BBQ may be out to get you, there are ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from these cancer-promoting substances in your grilled foods. Use these 5 tips to reduce the amount of carcinogen formation on your barbequed food.

1. Choose leaner cuts of meat. Less fat means less smoke, which means fewer PAH's. Trim visible fat off meats, and choose lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish for the grill.   

2. Use foil to decrease exposure to smoke and flames. Either create foil packets in which to cook your food, or line the grill with foil and poke holes in it, so the fat can still drip off the meat but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is reduced.

grilling.jpg3. Grill something other than meat. Vegetables, fruits, and grains don't have the same risk for HCA formation because they are extremely low in protein and do not contain creatine at all. Use a grill basket to grill chopped veggies, or use skewers for a colorful and fun way to eat your produce.

4. Marinate meat before grilling. Marinating meat before you grill can reduce carcinogen formation by up to 97%! That's amazing! Look for marinades that are low in sugar and sodium.

5. Use herbs and spices in your marinades. Herbs and spices are so high in antioxidants that simply using them in marinades can reduce carcinogens by up to 70%. Some of the best ones to include are cinnamon, cloves, oregano, ginger, rosemary, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Check out the recipe below for a major flavor boost and huge antioxidant power.

Happy grilling this summer!


Moroccan Spice Mix:

(yields ¼ cup)

5 tsp. paprika                                  ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cumin                       ½ tsp. allspice

1 tsp. ground ginger                       ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder                       ½ tsp. ground cloves

¾ tsp. black pepper                       ¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. chili powder

Combine and store in an airtight container for up to several months. Ideas for use:

  • Use as a spice rub on meats and fish
  • Mix into ground meat for burgers
  • Use to season sweet potato fries
  • Add to curries and dals
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