February 15, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Grilling

Can you explain why some people think grilling food is unhealthy?

-- Laura (last name withheld)

Brooklyn, NY

I assume you are referring to the grilling of meats, poultry, and seafood being linked to increased risks of certain cancers.

We know that when these foods are exposed to high temperatures (as they are when grilled) they produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

High consumption of HCAs has been linked to increased risks of stomach, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer.

Some recent research has also tied high HCA intake with increased risks of heart disease and Alzheimer's.

The good news? You can take steps to lower HCA formation.

This study in the Journal of Food Science, for instance, found that meats marinaded in antioxidant-rich spices had significantly decreased levels of HCAs.

Other research has concluded that microwaving red meat for one to two minutes prior to grilling also reduces HCA formation.

Another way to lower your exposure? Use a gas, rather than charcoal, grill.

It is worth noting that HCA levels are mainly a concern for people who eat grilled meats cooked until "well done" on an almost daily basis.

If your intake of grilled foods only occurs at a handful of barbecues in the summer, you shouldn't be too concerned.

And here's another reason to throw some veggies on that grill: they do not form HCAs.


outdoorgriller said...

That is true sometimes you get carbons on the meat but if you grill over charcoal and raise the grill or if you keep a spray bottle for a gas grill you can lower the chance of getting harmful hc's on the meat. Personally I like to steam seafood and with meat I grill to get grill marks on them and then I put in pan and let steam for the rest of the time.If you want more recipes or if you want to take a look at the collection of tips I have for grilling you can visit www.cookingandgrillinoutdoors.com

Andy Bellatti said...


I'm not too sure what you mean.

The issue isn't getting carbons on the meat; it's the effect continuous exposure to high heat has on the amino acids in these foods.

John Serrao said...

There is some science showing alcohol inhibits HCA creation on barbecued meats. I did a whole piece on it you might find interesting.

Good advice once again andy.

Andy Bellatti said...

Thanks, John!