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Grill With Care

Some smokin' tips for how to keep those barbeques healthy

MONDAY, July 4, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- By being careful and making wise choices, you can enjoy your summer barbeques without having to worry about cancer-causing chemicals in your food.

That's the word of the day from Stephanie Vangsness, a nutritionist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

High-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to a number of cancers. Another potential cancer-causing chemical called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is found in the smoke created when fat and juices drip on hot coals or rocks in a barbeque. The smoke can deposit the PAHs on the surface of the meat.

Vangsness offered the following safe grilling tips:

  • Select lean cuts of meat. Trim all excess fat and remove skin.
  • When using marinades, choose thinner ones. Thicker marinades tend to char, possibly increasing exposure to carcinogenic compounds. Use marinades that contain vinegar and/or lemon.
  • Partially cook meat in the microwave before you put in on the grill. This will reduce the time needed to cook the meat on the grill. Making sure meat is thawed will also reduce cooking time on the grill.
  • Discard juices before you grill. This will reduce flare ups.
  • Flip burgers often - once every minute.
  • Place food six inches from heat source.
  • Create a barrier -- such as a sheet of aluminum foil with holes poked in it -- to prevent meat juices from spilling onto hot coals and producing harmful smoke.
  • Smaller cuts of meat, such as kabobs, take less time to cook.
  • Grill vegetables. They don't contain the protein that forms HCAs.

Vangsness emphasized that people need to keep their grilling-related cancer risk in proper perspective.

"If you're grilling and following the proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling food is extremely low," she said in a prepared statement. She also said people should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain protective antioxidants.

More information

The FDA offers these outdoor food safety tips.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, June 29, 2005
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