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Healthy Eating

A Healthy Grilling Guide

Grilled corn and vegetables


Although many individuals grill foods all year long, summertime is typically when we start grilling more often.

This favorite cooking method causes us to handle raw meat, poultry, fish, and plant foods. Cross contamination of raw and cooked foods may lead to food borne illnesses.

In addition, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR): “…there isn’t enough evidence to show that grilled meat specifically increases risk for cancers. But we do know that cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates cancer-causing substances, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.

Risk of these carcinogens forming is higher from red and processed meats – like hamburgers and hot dogs. Smoke or charring also contributes to the formation of PAHs.

Evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats, contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from hot dogs or other processed meats.”

To keep your family and friends healthy and safe when grilling follow these important grilling guidelines:

  1. Always insure your grill grates, tongs, marinate brush, and cooking utensils are scrubbed clean with hot soapy water.
  2. Wash your hands before, during, and after grilling. If you are handling raw meats have hand sanitizer or wet wipes near your grill.
  3. Use separate plates, platters, and utensils for raw and cooked foods .Make sure to wash and sanitize all cutting boards, plates, and utensils that come in contact with raw foods. It is best to have separate cutting boards for produce and meats.
  4. Marinating meat, poultry, or fish before grilling decreases the formation of HCAs, If the marinade used on raw meat, poultry, or fish is going to be reused on the cooked protein bring it to a boil to destroy harmful bacteria.
  5. When grilling large portions of protein, partially cook them in the microwave, oven, or stove and then immediately transfer them to your heated grill. This will reduce exposure to the flames to reduce carcinogen formation and helps keep your meat safe from food pathogens that can cause illness.
  6. Trimming the fat off your meat and the skin off poultry reduces grill flare-ups and charring. The more fat left on the meat or poultry causes it to drip on the flames creating smoke and charring which increases the development of PAHs. If char does develop trim it off and do not eat it.
  7. To speed up cooking time and reduce the development of HCAs and PCAs cube or slice your meat or poultry. Choose quick cooking proteins like fish, shrimp or tofu.
  8. The faster foods are cooked decreases charring and the formation of carcinogens .Use a thermometer and cook foods to the following temperatures:
    Beef, veal, and pork to at least 145⁰ F
    Chicken and ground poultry to 165⁰F
    Hamburgers and all ground meat to 160⁰F
    Fish to 145⁰F
  9. Research has shown that if you flip or turn your meat more often it minimizes the formation of HCAs. Flip your food every 30 to 60 seconds.
  10. To prevent food borne illness, refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. Discard all food that has been sitting out for more than 2 hours. If the room or/outdoor temperature is above 90⁰F, toss all food after 1 hour.

Healthier options to grill would include vegetables, fruit, tofu, and whole grain breads. These foods do not have the ratio of creatine, protein, and sugars that cause the formation of HCAs. Try out some of the Ornish recipes, such as the Grilled Mushroom Portabella Burgers found here:

Always consult with your physician or healthcare provider before making any dietary/nutrition changes or commencing or changing your physical activity.