Eat Well to Be Well: Get Ready, Get Set … Grill!

shish-kabobsThe Fourth of July is right around the corner and that means grilling season is in full swing. Nothing quite distinguishes summer from all other seasons like the sounds and smells and of course, the tantalizing taste of barbecued meat. Unfortunately, research has suggested a link between grilled meat, poultry and fish and the possible development of cancer. When meat, poultry and fish are grilled, compounds called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) are formed that have been shown to cause tumors in animals and possibly increase the risk of cancers of the breast, colon, stomach and prostate in humans. But does this mean you have to give up grilled food? Of course not! By following a few tips you can still enjoy grilled foods and minimize your possible cancer risks.

1. Marinate meats before grilling. Researchers at Kansas State University used three different mixtures of oil, vinegar and herbs and spices to marinate steaks. The carcinogens in the marinated steaks were reduced by 57 to 88 percent compared to non-marinated steaks. Scientists believe that the marinade ingredients themselves seem to prevent HCA formation along with creating a protective barrier between the meat’s proteins and the heat of the grill.

2. Trim the fat. When you trim fat from meat before grilling, there will be less fat dripping onto the flames. That means fewer flare-ups; flare-ups can contain another cancer-causing substance called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that get deposited onto the food through flare-ups and smoke.

3. Shorten grill time. The less time spent on the grill, the less exposure to smoke and flames. Small meat portions like kabobs require a shorter cooking time. Fish will cook much faster than beef or chicken. Pre-cooking meats in a microwave for two to five minutes can significantly help eliminate 90 percent of the HCAs according to Nutrition Action Healthletter. Flipping food frequently also speeds up the cooking process.

4. Avoid processed meats. I know, everybody loves to eat processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, or bratwursts. Unfortunately, cancer-causing substances are formed when these meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or by the addition of preservatives. In addition, eating processed meats can do damage to your DNA, increasing your risk of colorectal cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. It’s best to limit your intake of these meats or avoid them altogether.

5. Ban burnt or charred meat, poultry and fish. I hate to admit this, but as a kid, I loved the taste of burnt or charred meat. Now that I’m a dietitian and know better, I avoid any charred pieces. The reason? Burnt or charred pieces are caused by cooking meat at a high temperature and that causes the HCAs and PAHs to form, which may increase your risk of pancreatic, colon or stomach cancers. The Kansas Beef Council recommends grilling at medium heat as high heat can overcook or char the meat. If using a charcoal grill, spread the coals in a single layer and when the coals are no longer flaming and are ash-colored, it should be at medium heat. If using a gas grill, check the owner’s manual for specific information on medium heat as gas grills can vary a lot. Always remove burnt or charred pieces from food.

6. Keep your grill gleaming. By this I mean clean the grill both before and definitely after you’ve grilled. Scrubbing the grill reduces the buildup of carcinogens and helps the food taste much better. Not cleaning the grill will mean you run the risk of transferring leftover chemicals onto food the next time you barbeque.

There you have it. By following the above tips, you can confidently and safely grill protein foods without compromising your health. So enjoy and get grilling!

Here is also a recipe from the Texas Beef Council that makes a great appetizer and follows the tips of using a marinade and small portions.

Salsa Steak Sticks

  • 1 ½ pounds top sirloin steak, cut into ¾ – inch cubessteaksticks
  • 1 cup medium salsa
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tsp. lemon pepper
  • ½ tsp. seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 32 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 10 minutes

Directions:

  1. Mix salsa, vegetable oil, lemon pepper, seasoned salt and garlic powder together in a glass dish or large sealable plastic bag.
  2. Marinate beef cubes for 2-6 hours in refrigerator.
  3. Thread 2 beef cubes onto each 4-inch wooden skewer
  4. Grill over medium coals for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally.

Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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