Is eating grilled meat safe?

The American Institute for Cancer Research (ACIR) expert report says there is not enough evidence to show that grilled meat increases your risk of cancer. But we do know that cooking meat at high temperatures, like grilling, creates cancer-causing substances called polysyclic aromatic hydorcarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs form when fat from the meat drips onto the hot coals or grill element. They’re then deposited on the food courtesy of flame-ups and rising smoke. Unfortunately, that desired charring that forms on meat can contain PAHs as well. HCAs, meanwhile, are produced when red meat, poultry and fish are exposed to high-heat cooking, like grilling, broiling, or charring.   Both PAH and HCA can cause changes in DNA that may lead to cancer according to AICR.

Risk of these carcinogenic formations is higher from red and processed meats – like hamburgers and hot dogs. Evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats, contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from processed meats.

Guide to Safe Grilling

  1. Marinate: Studies have suggested that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. Scientists theorize that the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming.
  2. Pre Cook: If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time your meat is exposed to the flames by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first. Immediately place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill. This helps keep your meat safe from bacteria and other food pathogens that can cause illness.
  3. Lean Cuts: Trimming the fat off your meat can reduce flare-ups and charring. Cook your meat in the center of the grill and make sure to flip frequently.
  4. Mix It Up: Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing with veggies can help shorten cooking time.
  5. Go Green: Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs and plant-based foods are actually associated with lower cancer risk.

Try this marinade recipe for any kind of meat.

Tangy Yogurt-Spice Marinade (Yield: Makes about 1 2/3 cups.)

1.5 cups low-fat yogurt
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. minced garlic cloves
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. dried, ground ginger)
Salt and white pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and combine at low speed. Pour into large, wide and shallow non-metal casserole dish or mixing bowl. Add food to be grilled and turn to coat all sides. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. When ready to grill, drain and discard marinade. Thread skewers with food. Grill, turning often to prevent charring. If desired, make additional marinade for basting (but do not baste with used marinade to avoid food poisoning from raw meat juices).

Per serving: 23 calories, 0 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g protein, 0 g dietary fiber, 22 mg sodium