It's that time of year when most Americans break out the charcoal and lighter fluid.
Most Americans own a barbecue grill, and many grill at least twice a week during the summer.
But as popular as grilling is, it comes with a number of health hazards.
As I wrote last week, grilling meat produces two known carcinogens – heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
But that doesn't mean you have to give up your summer barbecue.
Do what I do and enjoy a healthy way to cook your meat by following these tips...
1) Marinate your meat. Marinating your meat in beer significantly reduces the amount of PAHs that come from the smoke that rises up when fat drips off into the flames.
The smoke sticks on the meat, creating the grilled flavor but also trapping the PAHs in the food. Too many PAHs overwhelm the body and can trigger cancers and even damage our skin and lungs.
Researchers tested meats without a marinade against meats coated in one of three beer-based marinades. The light-beer marinades, including one without alcohol, led to about 19% fewer PAHs than the non-marinated meat. But the best was the black-beer-marinated meat, which had 53% fewer PAHs.
I also use an olive oil and balsamic vinegar marinade. The acid in the vinegar reduces the formation of carcinogens on grilled foods. In one study, it lowered the production of HCAs by 90%.
2) Take vitamin C. Taking vitamin C or eating tomatoes with your meats neutralizes the harm from nitrites, which may also cause cancer. I usually take a 500 mg-1000 mg vitamin C supplement with my meat-heavy meals.
The extra antioxidants the vitamin C provides assist your body in neutralizing the oxidized meat byproducts.
3) Don't overcook or burn the meat. Cook over lower heat and avoid the flames. Eating your meat medium-rare tastes better and has fewer HCAs and PAHs. If you do burn it, don't eat the charred bits.
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4) Trim the fat. As I mentioned last week, when fat falls from your meat and into the fire, it causes a cloud of PAH-filled smoke. So the more fat on the meat, the more smoke it will create. Look for leaner cuts of meat or trim some of the fat before cooking.
5) Choose gas. Gas grills cook at a lower and more even temperature than charcoal. They also produce less smoke. If you use charcoal, spread the meat around the cooking surface.
6) Go thin. Thinner cuts of meat cut down on cooking time without giving up flavor. But if you do want a thick steak, do a quick flash over higher heat to lock in the juices. Then cook the meat slowly over indirect heat with the top of the grill open. This increases the time on the grill, but it keeps that grilled flavor without too much smoke, burning, and char.
7) Eat a salad with your meal. Or add some fresh fruits and vegetables to your grill. The vegetables and fruits are low in fat but high in fiber, which helps keep digestion regular and binds up many of the bad chemicals. This in turn moves things through your gut more safely.
Fruits and vegetables also contain many cancer-fighting substances, such as vitamin C. I love grilling mushrooms, onions, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, corn, potatoes, and green and red peppers. For grilling fruits, I use peaches, papayas, pineapples, and mangos.
The next time you get out the grill, keep these tips in mind. And you'll be able to enjoy your meal more knowing you've lowered the risks.
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