It’s summer, and that means that grills are getting fired up almost nightly. But there are healthy — and unhealthy — ways to BBQ.
Grilling can add a tremendous amount of flavor to foods, and because it doesn’t use oil, can be a lighter way of heating up meats and vegetables. But cooking at high temperatures can activate heterocyclic amines (HCAs) , chemical compounds released by charring the protein in meats that can be carcinogenic.
The unhealthy compounds develop during the browning process, or Mallard reaction. According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, during this process, the amino acids in the meat combine with the natural sugars as cooking temperatures start to rise. To avoid exposing yourself to these unwanted compounds at your next BBQ, here are five tips from the doctors at MD Anderson.
1. Wrap it up: Barbecues can also release polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from meats. These form when heat activates an interaction between fat and smoke. Wrapping up the food to be grilled in foil will lessen exposure to smoke and the formation of PAHs.
2. Don’t char it: Black meat is a red flag. Charred pieces of meat or fish are covered with HCAs that can damage genes and put people at a greater risk for stomach and colorectal cancers.
3. Try fish instead: Limiting red meat lowers your saturated fat intake, but avoiding processed meats like bacon and hot dogs can also decrease your risk of damaging your DNA. The nitrites used to preserve processed meat can damage the lining of the intestine–and the high amount of salt in these foods can raise blood pressure and lead to other health problems. Fish is a good alternative — it has fewer calories and fat, and grills up more quickly than most red or processed meats.
4. Use a marinade: In the same way that foil can protect meat from smoke, marinades provide a healthy barrier too. Prepared marinades have polyphenolic antioxidants from spices that can reduce the formation of HCAs. These antioxidants stabilize the natural sugars in the meats and interfere with free radicals that can damage cells. To capitalize on this effect, stick to spices such as thyme, mint, sage, rosemary and oregano.
5. Trim the fat: Buy lean cuts of meat to limit how much saturated fat you eat — trim off any excess fat to prevent it from reacting with the smoke to generate PAHs.