Diet and Nutrition
Dr. Nancy

Is Grilling Really Bad For You?

May 10, 2019

"Is there a safe and healthy way to grill meat? Absolutely! Don’t let the doom and gloom of this research scare you aware from grilling altogether."

Summer is around the corner, and you know what that means! It means cooking out, barbecues, picnics, and summer parties. Unfortunately, grilling gets such a bad rap in the health and wellness community and as the summer season starts to heat up, you are going to hear more and more health experts start to warn you of the health risks associated with eating foods cooked on the backyard grill. 

In today’s episode with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, we’ll look at the real research behind grilling. Is it bad for our health? Is it a problem with all foods or just meat? We will also get to learn about how to prep your veggies for the grill and get to find out one of Dr. Nancy’s favorite delicious grilled fruit recipe.

Video Highlights.

  • 1:45: Top 10 popular grilled foods
  • 3:18: Fun Facts about Grilling
  • 5:15: Potential Health Issues Associated with Grilling.
  • 9:39: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • 10:27: Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs)
  • 11:27: Safe healthy Ways to Grill Meat
  • 12:06 Go Lean
  • 12:33: Location Matters
  • 12:56: Go Small
  • 13:14: Marinate
  • 14:20: Dab the Meat Dray
  • 15:10: Pre-cook your Meat
  • 15:52: Grill your fruits and vegetables
  • 22:44: Grilled Fruit Recipe
  • 24:03: Wrap Up

Top 10 most popular grilled foods

Grilling is wildly popular in the United States! Here is the top 10 list of popular foods that many people like to grill.

  • Steak
  • Hot dogs
  • Ribs
  • Hamburgers
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Bratwurst
  • Shish kabobs
  • Corn

Fun Facts about Grilling

Here are just a couple of pieces of trivia about grilling. 75% percent of Americans own an outdoor grill or a smoker. While there’s a somewhat antiquated idea that men grill and women don’t, the numbers on that have been changing. Typically, 44% of men tend to grill, and 22% of women pick up the grill tongs as well. The number one grilling holiday of the year in the United States is the 4th of July. Memorial Day is a close second, Father’s Day is the third and number four is Labor Day. Finally, here’s an interesting one: 5% of Americans grill every single week.

Potential Health Issues Associated with Grilling

Can grilling foods really be that dangerous or bad for health? Is it really a problem with all the foods or is it just specifically the meats? Health professionals are more actively now warning us against eating too much grilled, smoked, blackened, and charred meat. But don’t panic. The key words here are too much.

According to a recent study that tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine year period, regularly consumed well done or charred meat increased the risk of developing pancreatic or colorectal cancer by up to 60%. Research also found that the higher temperatures and longer cooking times of cooking meats led to higher levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). What is important to understand here is that these are the things that are detrimental to your health. They are the ones that are causing inflammation, so we want to prevent that from even coming into our bodies.

The PAHs form or are created when fat from the meat drips onto the hot coals or the grill element and then gets deposited back onto the food because of the flame flare ups, which then create more smoke. The smoke contains the PAHs which then permeate the meat that you are grilling.

This dynamic is created and influenced by:

  • The temperature of cooking
  • How long the food is cooked
  • The distance food is cooked from the grill flame
  • Fat content of the food

The HCAs, on the other hand are produced when red meat, poultry and fish meet high heat cooking such as grilling or boiling. These are harmful chemical byproducts that form while the meat is being cooked.

So the PAHs and HCA carcinogens have both been found to cause damage and changes in the DNA that can increase your risk of developing specific types of cancer. Essentially, the hotter and the longer meats are cooked, the more HCAs and PAHs are formed.

Safe Healthy Ways to Grill Meat

Is there a safe and healthy way to grill meat? Absolutely! Don’t let the doom and gloom of this research scare you aware from grilling altogether.

Here are seven important and effective safety measures that the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that you follow when you grill meat.

Go Lean

Trim the fat off your meat. This helps to reduce the flame flare ups and charring. It is recommended to stick with lean chicken and sustainably raised fish like those you find in the anti-inflammatory diet.

Location Matters

Cook your meat in the center of your grill, where the temperatures are more accurate and consistent. Make sure to flip grilling meats frequently to avoid the charring and blackening from forming on one side in particular.

Go Small

Cut meat into smaller portions to shorten cooking time, lessening the chances of overcooking, charring or blackening the meat.

Marinate the Meat

Statistically, women tend to marinate more than men. Studies suggest that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of the HCAs that we talked about by 70-85%. The American Institute for Cancer Research says that marinating meat for at least 30 minutes is sufficient to reduce the formation of HCAs.

Make sure you’re choosing healthy options to marinate. Avoid premade marinades. Make your own with some olive oil, lemon, crushed garlic, and fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and sea salt. Don’t be afraid to be bold with your marinades. Try using fresh ginger, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and balsamic and red wine. These mix and match really well to provide you with some really good, bold, awesome, healthy flavors.

Dab the Meat Dry

Dry the marinated, extra juices from your meats with a paper towel to cut down on the charring of the meats from the flames. Dripping marinades result in big flames which make the meat char even more quickly. After rubbing the excess fat with a paper towel, rub a little bit of olive oil onto the meat just before grilling.

Pre-cook Your Meat

Reduce the time your meat is exposed to flames by partially cooking it in an oven or on your stove. This also helps keep your meat safe from bacteria. You can do this when grilling chicken, by par boiling, or pre-cooking, the chicken in water seasoned with herbs, lemon and spices. Finish it on the grill, discarding the skin before eating of course.

Grill your fruits and vegetables

Grilling vegetables and fruits does not produce harmful HCAs and PAHs. Plus diets high in plant foods are associated with lower risks of cancer, improved heart health and reduced levels of inflammation in the body. Grilling vegetables and fruits also bring out so many flavors. It’s delicious and great for you. You can really nearly grill any fruit or any vegetable actually, including:

  • Sweet corn: make sure to look for local organic non GMO corn. You can use either white or yellow corn
  • Zucchini: you can slice it long ways so that it becomes this thin layer, brush it with olive oil, and a little bit of salt and pepper
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Onions
  • Romaine lettuce: use the whole entire heart and spray it with olive oil and then grill for 30 seconds on each side
  • Watermelon
  • Himalayan salt and pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Pineapple and peaches
  • Asparagus: this is very easy to grill. Hold the asparagus in both hands. They are extremely woody and stringy. Cut off the bottom part and then drizzle the asparagus it with olive or coconut oil. Place it onto your preheated grill for two minutes then flip it for two more minutes. When it starts to turn light green, you will see some grill marks forming. Take it off the heat, and sprinkle a little bit of sea salt or a squeeze of lemon on it. You can also grill this with carrots or celery. Always make sure you cut off the ends. If your vegetables are a little bit wilted, cut off the ends and then stick them to water.

Note: a small percentage of people do not have the enzymes to break down asparagus and beets, so if you do eat asparagus and your urine tends to smell very acidic, then this means that your body does not have the enzymes to break them down.

Grilled Fruit Recipe

You can make grilled fruit with any fruit you want: peaches, mangoes, anything really.

For this recipe, start by cutting pineapples into little triangles. Get some skewers and start skewering the fruit, kind of like you’re doing a Shishkabob. Just spear it and fill it up and then put pepper or cayenne on it. It tastes delicious and you can flavor your salads with your grilled vegetables and fruits to spice them up. Wait until it caramelizes, and then eat!

Wrap Up

The research is pretty clear. A growing body of science suggests that regularly grilling or cooking meat at high temperatures is not the best for your body over time. However, there are effective ways to minimize the risk of carcinogen chemicals occurring in well-cooked or charred meat.

Follow the tips above for safely grilling meat, including trimming the excess fat from the meat and choosing naturally lean meats like chicken and fish. Cooking your meats in the center of the grill where the temperature is more consistent and easier to control is another great tip. You can also wrap the meat in foil and grill it that way. Cutting meat into smaller pieces is another good way to make the cooking go more quickly. You might even want to cut meat and vegetables up and cook them on skewers, which also cuts down the cooking time so the meat isn’t in the flames for as long. Use marinades to coat the meat. It’s a fantastic way to impart flavor, but also provides a layer of protection between the meat and the open flame. Just make sure to dry or dab off the extra marinades from the meat with a paper towel before you grill. You can also precook or par boil the meats so they cook more quickly on the grill. You can do this with chicken and pre-boil it with a bunch of great seasonings like lemon, sea salt, garlic and herbs. You can also always opt to grill fruit and vegetables. Just prep them and make sure that you do not grill them to death, just a few minutes on each side, as you want a little bit of live nutrients in there.

As you can see, not all grilling is dangerous. As with everything else, balance, moderation, and education are necessary to make sure you make the best decisions for your health. Now you’re ready for a healthy, delicious summer!

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