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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 04/21/2017

Are you ready for summer grilling season?

Grilling meat is a spring and summer tradition in America. However, this cooking method may not be as safe as it is tasty. In fact, it may increase your risk of developing cancer, due to chemical reactions that produce carcinogenic compounds in meats that can act as toxic chemicals. These compounds include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs and PAHs can interact with DNA, damage genes, increase risk of cancer and cause genetic damage.

Charring, smoking and barbecuing food over a charcoal, wood, or other type of fire greatly increases the concentration of PAHs. PAHs are found in the smoke generated from cooking fat that drips onto hot coals. Meats with the highest fat content have the highest levels of PAHs. Grilling meats without smoke exposure caused by the fat drippings will significantly reduce or eliminate PAHs.

HCAs are primarily produced by cooking meats and fish at high temperature. High-temperature methods of cooking such as frying and broiling produce a much greater concentration of HCA than lower-temperature methods like boiling and microwaving. The degree of cooking can also impact the amount of HCAs in your food. Well-done meat contains more than 10 times the amount of HCAs than rare meat prepared the same way. Higher consumption of well-done meat is linked to 2 to 5 times more colon cancer and 2 to 3 times more breast cancer. There is also increased risk of cancers of the stomach, pancreas and prostate.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, consumption of HCAs is most clearly linked to colon and stomach cancers. One study found that people who eat the most barbecued red meat (beef, pork and lamb) almost double their risk of colon polyps compared to those who do not eat barbecued meat. Colon polyps can develop into colon cancer. Some evidence suggests that these carcinogenic compounds can travel through the bloodstream to other tissues, which explains why HCAs can be a factor in breast and other cancers.

How can you safely grill this spring and summer?

  • Avoid directly exposing meat to the naked gas or charcoal flame. This can be done by cooking on the grill with an iron skillet, which also adds significant amounts of iron to your food. Make sure to cook at low temperatures.
  • Avoid prolonged cooking times, especially at high temperatures. This helps to reduce HCA and PAH formation. Cook small pieces of meat (such as kabobs), since they can be cooked for shorter time periods.
  • Microwave meats prior to cooking at a high temperature. This reduces HCA formation because the meat is in contact with high heat for a shorter time to finish cooking.
  • Grill leaner cuts of meat that drip less and cause fewer flare-ups and smoke. When cooking at a high heat, continuously turn the meat over. This will reduce HCA formation compared to leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping often.
  • Avoid charring food, and remove any charred portions of meat before eating.
  • Marinate meats prior to cooking. This decreases HCA formation up to 96 percent.

Recipe of the Week: Grilled Moroccan Chicken Kabobs

1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (or chicken tenderloins)
2 bell peppers cut into 2 inch pieces
1 red onion cut into wedges
1.5 cups mushrooms
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of wax or parchment paper and pound to an even ½-inch thickness with a meat mallet. (Skip this step if substituting chicken tenderloins.) Cut chicken into large, bite-sized pieces.
Mix all ingredients except chicken and vegetables together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Place chicken inside 1 gallon Ziploc® bag. Reserve some of the marinade to put on kabobs while grilling, add the rest of the marinade to the bag, press air out and seal shut. Massage marinade into the chicken until evenly coated. Place the bag in a bowl in the refrigerator (to protect against leakage), and let the chicken marinate for 5-6 hours.
Clean grill and preheat to high. Thread the meat and vegetables onto metal skewers, leaving a small space between each item. Place chicken kabobs on grill, spooning marinade over top. Grill, covered, for 2-3 minutes per side or until juices run clear. Do not overcook.


Enjoy your weekend!

Karen Ambrosio, OWS

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