grilling cancer

Daily Wisdom: Don't Char Your Food

A nutritionist explains how to minimize your risk for cancer when grilling.

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A study by researchers at Kansas University found that using black pepper when grilling significantly reduces the presence of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogenic compound that can form on the surface of meat when it is cooked.


When grilling, there are two possible cancer risks. The first is HCAs, which form when amino acids (the building block of protein) and creatine (found in the muscles of the animal protein) are cooked at high temperatures. In addition to grilling, this can also occur with cooking methods such as frying and broiling. The antioxidant properties found in black pepper block the chemical formation of HCAs, which is why it's an ideal grilling spice. Similarly, vinegar, vegetable oil, garlic, onion, citrus juice, and herbs like basil, mint, oregano, sage, and rosemary have all been linked to a reduced HCA formation

The second hazard happens when fat from grilled food drips onto hot coals or ceramic bricks and produces smoke. This leads to the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). The chemical travels into the smoke, which then gets into the food. As the heat gets higher, the more PAH is formed. Trimming any visible fat from meat and poultry to reduce the drippings is important to offset PAH.  


Remove the burnt or charred parts before eating and make a point to add any (or a combination of) the ingredients listed above to your marinades. Using leaner cuts of meat and trimming any fat will decrease PAH.