There are many signs of summer: camping, mosquitoes, road trips, and of course the Labor Day BBQ. If you’re like most people you’ve already cooked more than a few meals on the grill this summer. While BBQing can be a very healthy way to eat, there have also been concerns about it contributing to health concerns like cancer. Here are the answers to the most common BBQ-related questions I’m asked:
One of the biggest concerns about BBQing is the possible link between BBQed food and cancer. Is there a real risk?
There is a link between BBQed foods and the risk of cancer. Basically, when foods like meat are heated over high temperatures or come in contact with flames, certain compounds can form. These compounds are called: Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). These compounds are known carcinogens. But, you don’t need to remember their names to lessen your risk of exposure to them.
How can we enjoy grilled food and still reduce our exposure to these cancer-causing agents?
Well, there are actually a few easy things that you can do to reduce your exposure to these compounds.
Choose foods that are low in fat like lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish. Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are primarily formed when fats are heated to high temperatures or fall into the flames and create smoke. By choosing lean cuts of meat and of course vegetables which are naturally low in fat, you reduce the chance of these compounds forming at all.
You should also trim excess fat from meat prior to cooking it.
What about avoiding flare-ups as much as possible while you’re BBQing?
Paying attention while you’re BBQing helps to lessen the likelihood of flare-ups, intense smoking, and charring is helpful too, which can result in healthier meals.
What about marinating our foods prior to BBQing it? Does that have any impact?
Yes, definitely. Certain types of ingredients used in marinating foods can really impact the formation of carcinogens.
Marinate foods like meat in olive oil and lemon juice-based marinades. Research shows that these two items can reduce the formation of the cancer-causing compounds by up to 99 percent while cooking. Not to mention that they tenderize the meat, add great flavor, and help keep it moist during cooking.
Scientists at the Food Safety Consortium project at Kansas State University have discovered that herbs in a particular family used in marinades drastically reduce the formation of heterocyclic amines. These herbs include: basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. Simply use one or more of these herbs, preferably fresh, in a marinade prior to and during cooking. Fortunately, they add tremendous flavor so most people won’t even know you’re making they’re BBQed food healthier.
What about barbecued vegetables? Are they a healthy option?
Yes, as long as you avoid overcooking them. The longer they cook the more certain vitamins like vitamin C and B-complex vitamins break down. So don’t overcook them. Also, avoid eating any charred parts of the vegetables.
One of the easiest ways to make BBQing healthier is to add vegetables as much as possible. Making kebabs is a great way to do this. By alternating lean meat and vegetables, the veggies will not only add flavor, they’ll also help to keep the meat moist and add fiber and nutrients.
Does keeping your grill clean prior to cooking help as well?
Definitely. It’s important to keep your grill clean prior to every use. Not only is it more appetizing to eat food that’s been cooked on a clean grill, but you’ll be lessening the amount of char you consume. The charred parts of food can cause free radical formation in your body and since free radicals are linked with premature aging, disease, and tissue damage, it’s best to reduce your exposure as much as possible.
Do you have any final advice about healthy grilling?
Yes, I love BBQed food as much as the next person. So, I think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to give up BBQed food if you’re trying to eat healthy and follow a healthy lifestyle. You can have your grilled food and enjoy it too, along with your health by following the simple tips I mentioned like choosing lean meat (if you’re eating meat at all), marinating food in olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs and adding more veggies to the grill.
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