We all try hard to protect ourselves against sun exposure in the summer to prevent skin cancer. But did you know there is another summer activity that might be putting you at an increased risk for cancer? I love the flavor of food cooked on the grill, so imagine my dismay when I learned that some types of grilled food may cause harm.
Researchers have known for years that people who eat more processed food and red meat have a higher risk of cancer, specifically colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) notes that the risk of colon and rectal cancer rises by about 20 percent for every serving or red or processed meat you eat per day. According to the AICR, this includes foods like steak and burgers as well as pork, lamb, ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages - all big grilling favorites.
To avoid these cancer risks, try to eat no more than 4-6 ounces of processed or red meat each week. You can substitute these foods with lean chicken breast, fish, and lots of veggies.
Another area of concern are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are cancer-causing agents that form when meat, poultry or fish are cooked well-done and charred during grilling. While there haven’t been many conclusive research studies on these compounds and their specific link to cancer, I recommend playing it safe and trying to avoid them.
- Eat seafood: seafood is much lower in HCAs than beef, pork or poultry.
- Eat veggies: grilled vegetables or fruits have no HCAs.
- Marinate your meats: marinating all meats and fish drastically cuts down on the amount of HCAs formed. Research seems to indicate that the length or type of marinade does not matter, so give your meat at least a quick dip in a sauce or marinade before putting it on the grill.
- Microwave: If possible, microwave your meats before grilling. Cutting down on grilling time means fewer HCAs, as does grilling at a lower temperature, and flipping your meat frequently.
Grill on readers, but do it safely.
About Anne Danahy, MS, RD, LDN
Anne Danahy, MS, RD, LDN has been a Nutritionist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for the past 15 years, and she currently works as the “Virtual Nutritionist." Her professional interests include weight management, heart disease, and women’s nutritional issues. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her in the kitchen testing recipes that are healthy AND delicious.