It’s summertime and that means cookouts by the grill. Most people believe grilling is a healthy cooking technique. While grilling can be healthy, there are some steps you should take to ensure grilled food is a good choice. Cooking meat (including chicken, fish, beef, pork) at a high temperature can create hazardous chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are formed when the protein reacts with high temperatures. PAH is formed when fat or juices drip on the fire or the surface causing flames and smoke. PAH is found in smoked foods as well as cigarette smoke and car exhaust. Some PAHs and HCAs are carcinogens. This means that eating well done or charred meat can increase cancer risk. HCAs are also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Don’t worry, you don’t have to throw out your grill. Take these steps to reduce your intake of PAH and HCA. Keep the grill clean Clean your grill before and after each use. Leftover burnt pieces and drippings can be a source of PAH and HCA. If using oil on the grill rack, avoid excess amounts which can cause smoke later. Use proper grill cleaning utensils. If using a grill brush, be careful to not leave a bristle on the rack. Ingesting a bristle can cause serious health problems. Marinate meat before grilling HCA levels can be reduced as much as 90% by marinating meat. A healthy marinade that includes herbs and spices provides antioxidants from that stop HCA from forming. Marinades also provide flavor and can help to tenderize the meat. Trim fat before grilling to avoid flare-ups from fat drippings. Cook safely and check temperature of meat Overcooking meat or leaving meat on the grill for a long time will increase the formation of HCA and PAH. Continue to turn meat over while exposed to heat. To avoid over- or undercooking meat, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.
- Pork and fish to 145 degrees F
- Meat (beef and lamb) to 160 degrees F
- Poultry and ground meat (beef, pork, and lamb) to 165 degrees F
Avoid placing meat directly on the grill Try using foil, cedar plank, or a grill mat instead of placing meat directly on the grill. This reduces exposure to the flame and smoke. Add fruits and vegetables to the grill Fruits and vegetables don’t produce PAH or HCA and are full of antioxidants. Try mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, cauliflower, pears, apples, or pineapple on the grill. So, keep your grill out and enjoy healthy grilling this summer using these simple steps.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE