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Summer is in full swing, and with Independence Day just around the corner, folks all over the nation are firing up their grills. And while inviting friends and family over for a barbecue is an American pastime, there may be some hidden dangers when it comes to our favorite foods.
Not only is the food we choose important, but the way we prepare it as well.
In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recently released a warning that grilled foods can increase the production of cancerous chemicals. They even included some guidelines to help ensure that your next cookout is cancer-free. According to the AICR’s Senior Director of Nutrition Programs:
Research shows that diets high in red and processed meat increase risk for colon cancer. And grilling meat, red or white, at high temperatures forms potent cancer-causing substances. But by keeping five simple steps in mind, it is possible to make this summer’s backyard grilling both healthier and more flavorful.”
We’ve talked before about the importance of organic food, the cancer risks of processed meats, and even the potential harm caused by grilling your food. However, we know that mankind has been cooking over an open flame for thousands of years. And frankly, a good Fourth of July party just isn’t the same without the sounds and smells of the grill.
To go along with the AICR’s guidelines, we want to make sure you have the knowledge you need to make sure your next shindig is healthy and cancer-free. So, without further ado, here are the important things to keep in mind the next time you grill. Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the way grilling creates toxic chemicals.
The Truth About Grilling, PAHs, and HCAs
The science behind the grilling-cancer connection is all about a chemical called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. These toxic chemicals are created when grilling meat, fish, and poultry (though they are much more abundant in meat). Studies have found that exposure to HCAs may increase the risk of cancer in humans.
Another type of chemical created when we grill are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs can also lead to cancer and are especially prevalent when meat is smoked. According to the National Cancer Institute:
PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke. The smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat.”
These chemicals, especially in abundance, are a big part of the reason that grilled meat is getting such a bad rap, but there are many factors at play here. Fats and sugars, hormones and chemicals, and the other types of foods we eat are equally important. So, let’s talk about the best foods to eat, where to get them, and how to prepare them.
The Foods We Eat Matter
Burgers and hot dogs usually take center stage at a backyard BBQ, supplemented with steaks, chicken, and pork. But it turns out that all that red and processed meat may not be the best choice. A study published last year found that processed meats (like hot dogs and sausages) increased the chance of developing breast cancer by 9%. Unprocessed red meat increased the risk by 6%.
In fact, the World Health Organization considers processed meats carcinogenic and has labeled red meat “probably carcinogenic.” This doesn’t mean that organic red meat needs to be cut out completely, but it should be eaten in moderation.
And they’re right: the cancer risk from eating charred or smoked meat is probably not as serious as the risk from consuming tons of sugar or living a sedentary lifestyle. However, there are plenty of steps you can take to minimize your exposure.
Swapping out hot dogs for fish or poultry is a great way to keep cancer away from your cookout. Vegetables don’t create HCAs when grilled, so the more color you can incorporate into your meal, the better. Many foods – like garlic, broccoli, and artichokes – can actually help to prevent and even reverse cancer growth!
Where Does Your Food Come From?
The origin of our food is just as important as our diet. At TTAC, we’ve been writing about the importance of organic, non-GMO, whole foods for years. And the truth is that not all foods are created equal! When you go to the grocery store to pick up your fish, veggies, meats, and snacks, what you buy can make all the difference in preventing cancer.
We’ve covered a lot of these things already, so here’s a list of things to look for (follow the links for more info):
1 | Understand your meat labels.
Knowing the difference between “organic,” “grass-fed,” and “grain-fed” is essential to buying healthy meat. Much of the world’s livestock is being pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and being fed grains or grass soaked in toxic chemicals like glyphosate. Always buy local, organic beef and poultry for your family.
2 | Beware of false advertising.
The current system for labeling GMOs is completely insufficient, allowing giant corporations to market their food as “organic” or “non-GMO” when it isn’t. Some farms that are certified as organic by the USDA have been caught lying about their practices, making it even harder to find healthy, real food. It’s always best to grow your own produce or find a trusted, local farm.
3 | Make sure you’re buying REAL food.
Much of today’s agriculture relies on genetic engineering to help food grow faster, bigger, and brighter than it can naturally. But with these alterations come many problems. These foods lack much of the nutrition of their natural counterpart, and create harmful, cancer-causing toxins. If it’s made in a lab, don’t eat it.
5 Steps for Preparing Food Safely
The AICR listed a few great tips for safe food preparation this summer, and we’ve added a few of our own.
1 | Marinate!
The first is to marinate your food. Studies have found that marinating for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs. Vinegar, lemon juice, and oils may be the most powerful way to reduce the cancer-causing chemicals found on the grill.
2 | Pre-cook
The next tip is to pre-cook. As we mentioned earlier, PAHs are especially abundant when food is smoked. You can reduce smoke exposure by pre-cooking your meat, fish, and poultry before you throw it on the grill. This is especially helpful because (in addition to reducing your cancer risk) it will keep things moving smoothly at your next soiree. No one wants to be stuck cooking all day, so do yourself a favor and get a head start.
3 | Keep it Low
Another way to keep cancer away from your cookout is by using low heat. HCAs and PAHs are both increased in high heat, especially when food is charred. Instead of setting your flames on full blast, try using a lower heat setting to protect your food, friends, and family. This will be no problem if you’ve precooked your meat.
4 | Ditch the Junk
The ingredients you use are important. A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates is directly linked to cancer. Look for alternatives to standards like burger buns, potato chips, and soda pop. Wow your friends with out-of-the-box replacements like matcha green tea with stevia, fresh, organic lettuce wraps, or homemade potato chips.
5 | Ferment!
Fermented foods can help fight cancer and inflammation. Additionally, they help aid in digestion and bolster the immune system. Sauerkraut and kimchi are great additions to any BBQ, and homemade kombucha is sure to be a hit on those hot summer days.
If you want more inspiration for your cancer-fighting cookout, check out these awesome recipes!
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) released a warning that grilled foods can increase the production of cancerous chemicals.
The grilling-cancer connection generally refers to a chemical called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs.
These toxic chemicals are created when grilling meat, fish, and poultry.
Studies have found that exposure to HCAs may increase the risk of cancer in humans.
A study published last year found that processed meats (like hot dogs and sausages) increased the chance of developing breast cancer by 9%.
When purchasing food, here are 3 things to look out for:
- Understand your meat labels.
- Beware of false advertising.
- Make sure you’re buying REAL food.
5 Steps for Preparing Food Safely:
- Keep it low
- Ditch the junk