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I am back today to talk again about one of American’s favorite pastimes-- grilling! Grilling can create some carcinogens or cancer-causing agents in the process. In my last article I explained how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat from the meat, chicken or fish drips onto the charcoal and covers the meat when the smoke drifts back onto the food. This time I want to talk about another cancer-causing agent called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). This is created from the black charring that is found on grilled meat. These substances can damage cells, raising your risk for certain types of cancer. HCAs are created when amino acids, sugars, and creatine react to the high temperatures used in the cooking process. They can actually be formed in frying as well as grilling. In animal studies HCAs developed tumors of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate, and other organs once the body digested them through the chemical digestion process.
Here are some tips to make grilling safer and healthier and still keep it a fun celebration for family and friends. These tips come from the MD Andersen Cancer Center and specifically refer to reducing colorectal cancer, however I would consider these suggestions as a preventative measure for any type of cancer:
1. To reduce charring on your food keep your grill clean. Cleaning your grill after each use will remove toxic chemicals from getting on your foods from previous cooking.
2. Lightly oil your grill so the meats will not stick and burn on the metal.
3. Cook at lower the temperatures so the PAH and the HCAs will not develop from the fat and the meat. You can lower the temperatures by thinning out the number of charcoal or using hickory or maple chips burn at lower temperature. Slower cooking can create a more tender meat as well.
4. Marinate your meat, poultry and fish before you cook them. Marinating reduces the formation of HCAs and it helps brings out the taste in your meats.
5. Grilled vegetables and fruits tend to produce little to no HCA’s or PAH because they do not contain large amounts of creatine or amino acids.