4 Smokin' Ways to Making Grilling Healthier

Image: Stephanie McCabe

Image: Stephanie McCabe

There's a lot of back and forth about grilling, barbecuing, and smoking meats in health food literature today. With father's day on the way, and most men's affinity for grilled meat, I thought it might be a good idea to address some of these concerns and offer up a few tips to make your father's day BBQ as healthy as it is happy.

Does grilling cause cancer?

First an foremost, BBQ-ing has come under fire (get it!?) for creating carcinogens in the charred edges of grilled food.

The long and short of it is that, yes, grilling foods at high temperatures creates two compounds that have been linked to cancer.

HCAs - heterocyclic amines - are formed when creatine and amino acids (both found in meat) are heated beyond 350 degrees fahrenheit.

PAHs - polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - are formed when fat from your grilling food drips onto the heat source and creates smoke that infuses into your foods.

Studies suggest that both of these compounds may damage DNA, leading to cell mutation and cancer.

Grilling vs. real cancer risks

All of the above being said, as long as you're not eating grilled meats for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or even every day), the risk of cancer from your Father's Day BBQ is quite low. There are MUCH larger factors when thinking about cancer prevention, like carrying extra weight, smoking, and consuming a high amount of refined sugar.

Like most things in this life, moderation is key - the occasional burger is not going to have a huge impact on an otherwise healthy person.

How to grill the healthy way

If you're concerned about well-being and still want to enjoy some good BBQs this summer, try one of these four recommendations to make your grilling a little healthier:

1. Trim the fat!

Avoid PAHs by removing excess fat from the edges of steaks, and opt for extra-lean beef for your burgers.

2. Marinate in anti-oxidants

Red wine and several herbs like rosemary, basil, mint, sage and oregano contain high levels of anti-oxidants, and letting your meat or poultry soak in a marinade containing any of the above has been shown to significantly reduce HCAs when grilling.

3. Serve cruciferous veggies as a side dish

Eating broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous veggies has been shown to reduce damage to DNA, thereby counteracting the negative impact of grilling your meat.

4. Try fish!

While HCAs and PAHs are still formed when fish is grilled, it creates significantly fewer of both. Plus, grilled salmon is pretty much the tastiest thing, ever.

If your dad has his heart set on a big cook-out this weekend, no need to deny him. Just incorporate some of these healthy grilling habits, and enjoy your weekend barbecue!