When summer arrives, some people celebrate by bringing out the grill. Who doesn't enjoy the taste of a freshly grilled burger or veggie burger? Grilling adds flavor to food without additional calories, but it isn't always the healthiest way to prepare food. As a physician, I find that people are usually surprised when I explain to them that grilled food is lower in fat, but there are still health risks. The reason?
Grilling meat at high temperatures produces chemicals called PAHs (polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines). Both of these compounds are linked with cancer in animals and, possibly, in humans, too. Fortunately, you don't have to give up grilling entirely to preserve your health. There are ways to reduce your risk of exposure to these not-so-healthy compounds when you grill. Here are five tips for healthy grilling.
Trim Off the Fat
Fat adds calories, but that isn't the biggest problem. When you grill a fatty piece of meat, fat drops on the hot metal of the grill, and PAHs are produced. That's not a good thing when it comes to your health. Trim away the fat before dropping meat on the grill to reduce the amounts of PAHs you're exposed to. Who needs all of that fat anyway?
You can reduce the amount of cancer-causing chemicals in grilled meat substantially by marinating it first. The key is to use acidic marinades, ones that contain lemon juice, vinegar or white wine. An acidic marinade lowers the pH of the meat and reduces HCA formation by up to 90%. It makes the meat taste better, too.
Add Some Spice
Spices do more than add flavor to grilled meat; some also reduce the amount of HCAs you're exposed to when you put meat on the grill. Which ones are best? Spices with more antioxidant activity like turmeric, rosemary and ginger block HCAs the best. These spices have other health benefits as well, so use them to add natural flavor.
Clean the Grill and Your Meat
The black debris that sticks to the metal on your grill and to your meat is PAHs. Give your grill a thorough cleaning before your next backyard grilling party to remove PAHs that could end up on your meat. Before chowing down on a piece of grilled meat, cut off any obviously charred areas.
Grill More Veggies and Meat Alternatives
Take a break from meat, and enjoy a veggie burger the next time you grill out. The grill gives veggie burgers more flavor, and you can always dress up your "no meat" burger creation with tasty condiments. Toss some of your favorite veggies on the grill too to reduce the amount of grilled meat you eat. How about grilled veggie kabobs for a change of pace? Spiced with rosemary, of course. Don't forget about grilled fruit. Grilled pineapple, pears and peaches taste yummy. Add them to a kabob or enjoy them with yogurt for dessert.
The Bottom Line?
When you get out the grill this year, use these tips for healthy grilling to reduce the amount of PAHs and HCAs in the foods you enjoy. What you grill will taste great, and they'll be healthier too.