With the summer season comes the start of a staple family activity that everybody loves—grilling! Cooking over open flames is always an excellent way to bond with friends and family. But is it also good for your health?
For years, there has been a slight controversy about whether or not grilling is right for your health. CDC had given their take that grilled foods are a healthier option than fried ones.
While other research posits that the smoky flavor and char in barbecues cause cancer, so, which is it really? Are there ways towards smart and healthy grilling?
Grilling: Is it Safe?
Generally, grilling is a more wholesome cooking method than frying—eating food dripping in fat and batter does no good to anybody. Moreover, grilling meat and other food products over high heat helps release the fat inside, thus lowering their calorie content.
However, the combination of fat and high temperature is also the very reason why grilling presents potential problems for your health.
According to research, meat cooked directly over an open flame and high heat causes the formation of HCAs and PAHs.
- Heterocyclic amines are chemicals formed from cooking muscle meat such as beef, pork, fish, and poultry. This is due to the interaction of heat and certain substances found in muscles such as sugar, creatine, and amino acid.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons refer to a group of over 100 chemicals released from burning coal, wood, or gasoline. It is also formed during grilling when fat juices drip onto the fire or heat source, entangling itself with the flames and smoke. The smoke will then adhere to the food product being grilled.
Both HCAs and PAHs are found to be carcinogenic (a cancerous agent) and mutagenic (causes DNA mutations).
Frequent exposure or ingestion of these chemicals can potentially cause serious health issues for the human body.
So, does this mean that grilling is off the table forever? No! There are other ways to make your Sunday BBQs safe.
Many factors contribute to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. This includes the type of food being grilled, cooking time, temperature, food preparation, and the actual cooking process.
Knowing these things will help you make your favorite summer cooking method healthier and safer for the whole family.
Smart Tips for Healthy Grilling
As with most things, grilling comes with its own caveat. However, there are smart ways to cut down HCA and PAH consumption or prevent them altogether.
Clean Your Grill
Start out clean by eliminating the leftover char (black tar) from last week’s backyard barbecue party. Char build up can transfer to your meat and introduce HCAs and PAHs to your body.
Make it a point to always use a clean grill and station before cooking anything. Use a grill cleaning brush to remove the tar, then wipe it down with a clean paper towel to keep it bristle-free.
Reduce Heat and Smoke
High heat, open flames, and dripping fat can be a dangerous combination. The interaction of the three results in the formation of HCAs. You can reduce heat and smoke by:
- Lining the grill with aluminum foil poked with holes
- Cooking foods longer and at a lower heat (325 degrees Fahrenheit or under)
- Avoiding direct exposure of meat to flames
- Cooking smaller portions of meat to spend less time grilling it
- Flipping the meat every 30 to 60 seconds
- Removing the fatty portion of meat
- Having a spray bottle on hand to control flare-ups
- Using portable gas
Prepare a Healthy Plate
Decrease your meat intake, and throw some vegetables and fruits onto the grill to give your plate diversity. Foods rich in fat and protein produce the highest number of heterocyclic amines when grilled. In contrast, veggies and fruits rich in carbs and antioxidants do not. Grilling intensifies the flavor of fruits and vegetables, making them more appealing to include in your next Sunday grill.
You can also mix things up by adding fruits and veggies as side dishes or making Kebabs—alternating between meat, onion, peppers, and more. Get creative. You can even skip meat altogether and try eggplant cutlets or a portobello mushroom steak.
Give it a Soak
If you cannot cut down on meat consumption, then marinate portions of beef and pork before tossing it onto the grilling station. This adds flavor to the food, tenderizes the meat, and reduces its chances of forming HCAs when grilled.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, marinating meat prevents it from forming HCAs when cooked in an open flame. It is said that flavonoids found in marinating ingredients reduce the formation of carcinogenic substances.
Marinate using healthy and fat-free products such as rice wine vinegar, lemon, ginger, herbs, and spices. If using bottled condiments, choose options that contain less salt and oil.
Exercise Safe Grilling
HCAs and PAHs are not the only health hazards associated with grilling. Food poisoning due to undercooked meat, improper preparation, and cross-contamination is a common cause for illness.
Here are some tips to avoid E. coli, Salmonella, and other food-related illnesses when grilling.
- Keep raw food separate from veggies and fruits.
- Refrigerate ingredients until they are ready to go on the grill.
- Serve food with a clean plate and utensils.
- Ensure that the meat is thoroughly cooked. Use a food thermometer to check them.
- Keep ingredients and ready-to-eat food covered and at appropriate temperatures.
In case of health issues during and after grilling, contact emergency professionals immediately.