Emily DaCosta, Nutrition Intern

Grilling is a favorite method of cooking in the summer months – and why not? It gets you out of the kitchen and outside to enjoy the beautiful weather with friends and family! Grilling foods imparts a wonderful, smoky flavor but can also introduce something else to our plates – toxins.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are hazardous carcinogens that form on the surface of grilled meats. These substances may lead to an increased risk of cancers, specifically colorectal cancer. High temperature grilling where smoking occurs is the driving force behind the development of these toxins. If charred grill marks appear on your meats, it’s a sure sign the toxins are present.

Here are some tips to grill safely and limit development of these toxins:

Replace red meats, because red meats produce the highest levels of carcinogens:

  • Grilling vegetables or fruits [see recipe below] produce very limited HCAs and PAHs. Summer allows you the opportunity to select fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farmers market. This makes it especially easy to find options to replace red meats.
  • Grilling fish, turkey, or chicken produces less carcinogens than red meats. The healthiest types of fish to cook include salmon, trout, and sardines because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. When grilling chicken, remove the skin.

When grilling meats, treat them wisely:

  • Marinate the meat. Marinating will significantly reduce the formation of carcinogens. The addition of herbs rich in antioxidants such as basil, mint, rosemary, and sage may help reduce the formation of carcinogens. Use about half a cup of marinade per one pound of food.
  • Keep the heat on medium and flip the meat often – this helps to lessen the amount of carcinogens that form.
  • Finish cooking meats in oven after a brief time on the grill. They will still taste great and will not have those telltale charred grill marks on the surface.

You’ll find plenty of healthy recipes for summer grilling on our meal plans. Here are some of our favorites to try:

  • Grilled Artichokes
  • Grilled Peach and Spinach Salad
  • Mediterranean Turkey Burgers
  • Salmon Burgers with Caper Mayo
  • Lemony Chicken Skewers