The first big holiday weekend of the summer is upon us. Thousands of us will be enjoying good company, perfect weather and good food on our barbecues. In the center of the good times, however, you might not be thinking about some very real health risks that you’re exposing yourself to while barbecuing.
In recent years there is growing evidence exposing the dangers of cooking over an open flame increases our exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens. There are three specific dangers.
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when meat is cooked over high heat causing a char. Although the char looks good and gives a tasty flavor, the more the char the greater the carcinogens that coat your food. These HCAs may be associated with an increase risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) are toxic chemicals that can damage your lungs. These toxins are found in the smoke created from the meat drippings hitting the hot cooking surface. Inhaling the smoke from your grill is not a good idea. The toxins are also absorbed directly into your food.
- Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs) are inflammatory products created when food is cooked at a very high temperature. AGEs are harmful to your cells and are associated with cellular stress and aging. Your body cannot digest them or get rid of them easily. Over time, AGEs accumulate in your organs and cause damage. The AGEs are found in the char.
Now, we don’t want to have to stop barbecuing, right? Here are a few strategies to have a healthier barbecue.
- Marinate your meat to create a barrier between it and the formation of HCAs
- Switch to seafood, which typically forms fewer HCAs than meat and requires a shorter cooking time.
- Lower the temperature on your gas grill to prevent meat from burning.
- Cook leaner meats and trim the fat off before grilling to reduce drippings and flame flare-ups.
- Pre-cook meats by either oven-roasting or pan-searing meats first to cut down on grilling time.
- Cook meats on tin foil to reduce drippings.
- Clean your grill after each use to avoid transferring leftover chemicals.
- Trim off burnt bits of meat before eating.
- Cut meats in smaller portions to reduce cooking time.
- Flip food over frequently to reduce charring.