Health experts advise caution when grilling meats

provided by American Institute for Cancer Research


emorial Day marks the onset of summer activities including outdoor grilling of meat, poultry and fish. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), grilling possibly raises the risk of cancer, but that risk can be reduced by following a few guidelines for safe grilling.

High-heat cooking methods such as grilling and broiling of meat, poultry and fish produce compounds that some studies suggest may cause cancer. One of AICR's recommendations for cancer prevention is to avoid eating charred food and to consume grilled and broiled meat, poultry and fish only occasionally.

When fat from meat drips onto hot coals or stones, carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed and deposited onto food by smoke or flame-ups that char or blacken it. Furthermore, high-protein foods cooked at high temperatures have been found to contain another class of cancer-causing agents called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs).

"There is no need to eliminate grilled food from your diet totally," says AICR dietitian Melanie Polk, R.D. "But if you are serious about reducing your cancer risk as much as possible, it makes sense to take a few precautions."

Among these precautions are:

  1. Choosing lean cuts of meat to grill, instead of high-fat varieties such as ribs or sausages.
  2. Reducing fat substantially by trimming it from meats and removing skin from poultry before grilling.
  3. Using tongs or a spatula to turn foods, rather than a fork, which might pierce meat and allow juices and fat to cause flame-ups.

AICR experts advise that you avoid charring as you grill your foods, and remove any charred material that does form. You can help keep smoke away from cooking foods by covering the grill with aluminum foil punched with holes.

Many meats like poultry and ribs can be boiled, steamed or partially cooked in the microwave and then grilled briefly to add that unique grilled flavor and aroma. In addition, recent studies have shown that marinating foods prior to grilling them may significantly protect them from the formation of carcinogenic substances.

Cooking vegetables and fruits on the grill does not pose any known risk. Polk recommends trying vegetables skewered and marinated or wrapped in foil with herbs and a splash of broth, wine or flavored vinegar.

And if you're looking for an exciting, but healthy dessert, try grilled fruit. The grill's heat caramelizes the fruit's sugar and gives it a more intense, deliciously sweet flavor.

  The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of consumer education programs that have helped millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided nearly $50 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Internet Web address is