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Can grill marks on BBQ food cause cancer?We've got 8 tips for enjoying a healthier cookout

This is the time of year when grilling and eating outdoors is the thing to do. It’s awesome! I love it! With an abundance of fresh local food it’s the tastiest time of the year.

But cooking meat on the barbecue can be a challenge. From the type of meat and the serving preference of your guests, the BBQ Chef has to keep on his or her toes. And now studies have shown that cooking meats at high temperatures may increase your risk of cancer. So much for enjoying that next bite of your char marked, cooked to perfection steak! But it’s not all bad. Let me explain.

When you barbecue a steak, or cook meat at high temperatures it creates compounds. The three main toxic compounds are: 

  • heterocyclic amines (HCAs)

  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

  • advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

These carcinogens can cause changes in DNA that can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60%, according to a study from  the University of Minnesota. And according to a 13-year European study, HCAs may increase the risk of colorectal polyps, which may develop into cancer.

HCAs are created when beef, pork, chicken or fish are cooked at really high temperatures, usually over 300 c. PAHs develop from the incomplete combustion of oil and gets deposited on your meat when fat drips onto your coals or gas flame and causes flare-ups. AGEs also occur from high temperatures and accumulation over time leads to oxidative stress, inflammation, and increases risk of all chronic diseases such as heart and kidney disease and diabetes. And these compounds are known to cause leukemia and other cancers in rats.

But I’m not here to ruin your next BBQ!

8 Tips to Enjoying a Healthier Cookout

“There are so many reasons why I love the summertime: the green grass and warm sunshine, longer days and warmer evenings, more time to savor all the beauty of the outdoors,” says one of Dr. Phil's favourite Doctors he likes to quote, Mark Hyman, MD. “But the best part by far is the amazing abundance of healthy, fresh, whole foods everywhere you look.”

1. The very first thing you should do is to make sure your grill is clean. Remove any soot and burnt matter off your grill. This will also reduce flare-ups. Wipe the grill with a cloth or paper towel that has some oil on it (see tip number 4)**If you use a stainless steel or brass wire brush to remove stuck-on food from grill grates, be aware of this surprising downside: Small, sharp bristles can break off as you’re cleaning and get stuck to your grill’s cooking surface. The next time you grill, those stray bristles may adhere to food and be accidentally ingested.An estimated 1,700 Americans went to an emergency room between 2002 and 2014 after having ingested wire bristles in grilled food, according to a study published in 2016 in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. One in four of those with grill brush injuries had to be admitted to the hospital.

2. Choose lean meats and remove excess fat before you put them on the BBQ. And if you can, go organic, or grass fed meats. (That's a whole other issue, but beter for you!) When you get your meat from a high quality source, local organic is best; you can cook the meat as little as possible. Rare or medium-rare at most. If you do char your meat, trim it off before eating it

3. If you do char your meat, trim it off before eating it. “Some processed meats also contain nitrates, which are not carcinogenic, but when those nitrates get grilled, charred, or heated to high temperature (over 266°F), they turn into nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic,” says Hyman in Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?.

4. Prepare the grill with avocado oil (smoke point of 520 degrees) or grapeseed oil (smoke point of 400 degrees) whereas extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 320 degrees.

5. Marinate your meat with a simple mix of avocado, olive or coconut oil and lemon or lime juice. This can reduce levels of HCAs by 90% in bbq chicken. Red wine or beer marinade (6 hrs required) can also reduce HCA's by 90%. This is partly because it prevents flare ups as you cook. Our personal favourite for a marinade is avocado oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and garlic powder.

6. Cook on a lower setting, which makes it harder for your meat to burn or char. Avoid store bought BBQ sauces, which have a lot of sugar and when BBQ'd create a large amount of AGE's. WTW members know sugar promotes cancer. Adding spices to your marinade or sauces such as rosemary, garlic, onion actually can decrease your toxin load significantly.

7. For a change of pace, grill some fish instead of red meat. Grill veggies or fruit which results in no HCA's! Make sure you reduce your heat or use the upper rack. You'll still get that grilled flavour. Also, vegetables can reverse or cancel out your cardinogen risk.

8. Clean your grill right after you are done grilling, while it's still hot. It is a lot easier to clean, and it will be ready to use next time.


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