For many Americans, the Fourth of July would not be the same without a backyard barbecue filled with steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs. But grill masters beware: research says high-heat grilling can increase cancer risk.
Summer grilling can be fun, delicious and healthy with some preparation and smart food choices.
Cooking meats at very high temperatures converts proteins and sugars found in red meat, pork, poultry and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs), while dripping fats and juices from meat create polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both compounds are known to cause DNA-altering changes that can increase the risk of cancer.
A study from the University of Minnesota found that eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent. And the American Institute for Cancer Research stated that consuming red and processed meats raises one's risk of colorectal cancer.
“It is estimated that three-quarters of colorectal cancers, half of breast cancers and one-third of lung cancers could be prevented with healthier diets,” said Peggy Mancini, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at City of Hope.
However, you don’t have to give up grilling completely to stay healthy. Here are a few tips on how you can lower your risk of cancer when hosting a summer barbecue:
Grill up some vegetables instead of meat.Vegetables can be safely cooked on the grill since cancer-causing substances are not formed when they are exposed to high heat. Additionally, vegetables contain many vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that help lower cancer risk.
Opt for lean poultry or seafood. Unlike red and processed meats, poultry and seafood consumption is not tied to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Additionally, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids - found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and cod - can lower cancer risk.
Grill red meats carefully to minimize HCA/PAH exposure. This includes marinating meats before grilling, turning them frequently on the cooking surface and removing charred portions of the meat prior to serving.
Pick whole grain products when purchasing or preparing accompaniments such as pasta salads or burger buns. These grains are packed with fiber and other nutrients that can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Go fruity for desserts. Like vegetables, fruits contain many nutrients that can help reduce cancer risk. City of Hope's 'superfoods' studies have found that blueberries, pomegranates and grapes contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and Mancini said "eating a rainbow" of different-colored fruits and vegetables can significantly lower one's risk of cancer and other diseases.
By making healthier food choices and planning a little, the grill doesn't have to be off-limits for the summer. In fact, it may even reduce your cancer risk.