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A Guide to Grilling Food

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A Guide to Grilling Food

Grilling or barbecuing meat at high temperatures leads to the production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds known as “mutagens” which damage DNA and may increase the risk for developing cancer. 


Choose Meat Wisely

Emphasize leaner cuts of meat.  Less fat drippings mean less smoke and less exposure to PAHs.  Further, removing the skin from poultry before cooking will reduce HCA formation.



Not only does marinating meat impart more flavor, but it can also be protective against carcinogenic compounds.  Acid-containing marinades are best to reduce the formation of HCAs.  It is also important to note that traditional barbeque sauces, which tend to have high sugar content, can increase information of HCAs.


Add Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices have been shown to significantly reduce the formation of HCAs when meats are grilled.  Mint, onion, turmeric, garlic, rosemary, ginger, thyme, and red chili pepper are all great choices.  These herbs can be used in marinades, mixed into ground meats, or used as a dry rub.


Avoid Over-Cooking or Charring

The amount of time your meat contacts the grill makes a difference.  Try quicker-cooking proteins like fish or shrimp or cut your meats into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time (meat and vegetable kebabs are a great solution).  Rotate meat frequently to allow the center to fully cook without overheating the surface.


Try Grilling Other Food Groups

Fruits and vegetables have been shown to inhibit the activity of HCAs and reduce DNA damage caused by these compounds.  Fortunately, antioxidant-rich produce can also be delicious when grilled.  For a unique addition to your meal try zucchini, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apples, peaches, pineapple, or even watermelon.

Madeline Groves

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