6 Ways To Grill Healthier This Summer
Memorial Day kicks off the unofficial start of summer, with its picnics, fireworks, and barbecues. That last activity is what our family doctors in Delray Beach want to focus on now.
The danger of grilled meat
First, a bit of background. It is true that barbecuing meat may increase the risk of certain cancers. The blackened crust found on the grilled meat, known as “char,” is the dangerous part, containing the cancer-causing compounds heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The more HCAs the finished product has, the greater the risk of prostate, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.
High grilling temperatures, as with indoor cooking at high temperatures, can trigger a harmful chemical reaction in cells called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can cause inflammation and premature cell aging.
The smoke, of course, is dangerous as well. Resulting from the fat in the meat that drips onto the hot coals, it smells wonderful, but contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that result in damage to your lungs.
But there are ways to ensure safer grilling.
- Go lean
Lean meats don’t have as much fat to drip, thus limiting the resulting HCAs. When grilling chicken, remove the skin before placing on the grill, and trim away visible fat from steaks. Fish and lean ground poultry are also good candidates for the barbecue.
- Look to marinades
With less fat available, barbecued meat can be tougher and not as flavorful. Marinating the meat will increase flavor and tenderness. Be sure to include some of your favorite herbs and spices, and whichever acidic tenderizing agent you prefer: vinegar, citrus juice, wine, beer, soy sauce, or the like. One chemist found that a marinade of olive oil, garlic, mustard, cider vinegar, lemon juice, and salt reduced dangerous grilling-related compounds by more than 90 percent, although he was unable to pinpoint the reason.
- Reduce grilling time
Meats that are pre-cooked and added to the grill to finish will still result in the barbecued flavor but will reduce HCA, AGE, and PAH exposure. So will grilling smaller pieces, because they cook faster. Also, flipping often prevents the char that releases the harmful compounds.
- Use safe handling practices
The usual kitchen rules still apply to grilling. Cook meat to the recommended temperature, keep refrigerated until ready to cook, wash hands after handling meat, and avoid cross-contamination with other foods.
- Go vegan
Grilling fruits and vegetables present none of the potential dangers of grilled meat, but still imparts a wonderful flavor to these foods.
- Clean the grill—safely
Keeping your grill clean reduces the carcinogens (and harmful bacteria) that can build up on the grill.
However, a warning: Emergency rooms tend to see an increase of cases this time of year of patients who have pieces of wire embedded in their mouths or throats. The culprit? Wire brushes used to clean grills. The wires can dislodge and linger unnoticed on the grill, later becoming embedded in the grilled food.
Therefore, choose cleaning tools specially made for such heavy-duty cleaning but don’t contain wire. Some options are brushes made of hard nylon, or those made with twisted wire that won’t come loose. In a pinch, many people use a ball of crumpled aluminum foil.
If you have any questions about this or any health-related issue, don’t hesitate to contact us.