Updated: Jul 30, 2020
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Lisa O’Gorman, CEC
Nothing speaks more of the perfect summer day than outdoor activities followed by a delicious meal featuring farm fresh fruits, produce and the “thrill of the grill”. Just as you need to protect your skin from the strong rays of the sun, care is needed to protect the foods that you grill from becoming harmful by overcooking, charring and or burning.
Many studies have concluded that the best diets to minimize the risk of cancer or after a cancer diagnosis is plant based, high fiber and usually with no dairy for health and healing. If you do choose to occasionally indulge in some meat products, stick to organic, pasture raised, grass-fed if you must. On a list of cancer-causing foods, burnt meats was right next to sweetened beverages- i.e. sodas, and hot dogs.
Alice Bender, MS, RDN, Head of Nutrition Programs at American Institute for Cancer Research says “Here’s what we know, Cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Smoking or charring meat also contributes to the formation of PAHs. These substances are carcinogens, with the potential to se changes in DNA that may lead to cancer.”
You want to avoid long exposure to high heat- above 325 degrees F.
Cook meats for a longer time at lower heat. Precooking meats and turning often when on the grill cuts down exposure to longer cooking times and possible charring or burning of the exterior. Using smaller cuts of meat reduces the cooking time. Remove any visible fat to avoid flare ups from the grill. Placing a layer of aluminum foil with holes poked in it to let juices pass thru creates a protective barrier to prevent burning.
When purchasing meats or poultry, for those raised without the use of synthetic hormones. The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in the raising of hogs and poultry in the US but it does allow the use of a number of hormones and antibiotics in the raising of beef. If beef is labeled “no hormones, administered” it is considered to be free from any added hormones during the life of the animal. Grass-fed beef has not been fed genetically modified corn as regular beef is. It is leaner therefor lower in saturated fat, higher in vitamin E, antioxidants and omega 3s.Grass-fed however, doesn’t mean organic unless labeled as such. Buy organic pork, beef and poultry. These are animals raised without the use of antibiotics, genetically modified feed, irradiation, sewage sludge or any artificial ingredients. Don’t forget to compliment your meats and fish with delicious grilled seasonal vegetables. Grilled vegetables do not form harmful HCAs. Grill extra vegetables to be use the next day in a salad or as a side dish.
I always recommend the use a food thermometer to be certain your protein is cooked to perfection. This is an easy way to be sure to avoid illness from undercooked meats or fish and avoids overcooking as well. Most grocery stores sell probe food thermometers. Temperature should be taken from the thickest part of the chop or steak. Chicken and Turkey ground or whole should be cooked to 165 degrees F. Ground beef or hamburgers 160 degrees F. Beef Roasts/Steaks: Medium Rare 145 degrees F., Medium 160 degrees F., Well Done 170 degrees F., Pork 160 degrees F., Fish 145 degrees F., Hot Dogs 165 degrees F.
Always marinate meats, fish etc. under refrigeration. If some of the marinade is to be used for a sauce later, reserve necessary amount before letting it come in contact with the meat, poultry or fish. It is also possible to use the marinade after it has been in contact with meat, poultry or fish if you boil it prior to making the necessary sauce. This kills any potentially harmful pathogens.
Five Steps for Safer Grilling But there are ways to decrease potential risks that may be associated with grilling. Here are five simple guidelines from AICR:
1. Marinate: Studies have suggested that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. Scientists theorize that the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming.
2. Pre-Cook: If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time your meat is exposed to the flames by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first. Immediately place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill. This helps keep your meat safe from bacteria and other food pathogens that can cause illness.
3. Go Lean: Trimming the fat off your meat can reduce flare-ups and charring. Cook your meat in the center of the grill and make sure to flip frequently.
4. Mix It Up: Cutting meat into smaller portions and mixing in veggies can help shorten cooking time.
5. Go Green: Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs — and diets high in plant foods are associated with lower cancer risk.
Bon Appetit and keep safe!!