Had my first bbq’ed meal over the weekend. It was delicious and so simple and healthy. Boneless skinless chicken breasts done on the bbq with no added fat – just a tbsp or so of Diana Bbq Sauce, placed atop a salad of spinach, crumbled blue cheese, sautéed mushrooms, hearts of palm, and sliced pear, and then drizzled with some balsamic vinegar. Although the meal ended with a slice of chocolate cake (or two), it was still very healthy overall. Or was it?
The chicken had some burnt bbq sauce on it (or was it caramelized) and this got me thinking about the pros/cons of grilling and the purported link between cancer and grilling. Here’s the scoop:
- Tastes delicious
- Flavorful so reduces need for heavy, salt and sugar laden sauces; often spices and rubs are enough to add flavor
- Low fat because fat isn’t needed to cook and because fat drips away rather than accumulates in the pan
- Easy, quick, and low mess
- Men like to do it
Two types of cancer-promoting chemicals can form during the grilling process:
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are in the smoke that interacts with the meat on the grill when dripping fat causes flames to flare.
- Heterocyclic amines, or HAs, are produced when meat is exposed to high heat or prolonged cooking. HAs are created inside the meat so they can’t be scraped away or trimmed off.
There is some association between exposure to HAs and PAHs and risk for colon and stomach cancers. HAs have also been linked to pancreatic cancer.
Because the Pros are too great (especially the last one), here are some tips to minimize the Cons so we can all continue to enjoy our summer bbq’ing:
- To protect the food from PAHs, cover the grill with foil (make tiny perforations to allow fat to drip through) before grilling
- Try not to burn or char food by cooking it slowly
- Turn the food often to prevent burning.
- Choose lean cuts to prevent fat from dripping and causing flares.
- When buying a new grill, consider a gas-powered one so you can more easily adjust the flame.
- Using acid-based and anti-oxidant rich marinades such as those made with vinegar, citrus juices, or red wine may decrease HA formation in steak by more than 80 percent
- Scrape off any burned parts of meats before eating to remove PAHs
- Try starting the cooking process inside, in the microwave for instance, and then finish it on the grill — just long enough to get the grilled taste.
- The longer meat cooks, the more time HAs have to form, so avoid eating meat too well done.