6 Tips for Healthier Grilled Meals

Article by: Beth Blessing

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer and the beginning of the grilling season. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken are the epitome of the perfect weekend summer meal.  For years, there has been controversy over whether grilled meat could cause cancer.  According to recent research, well done or charred meats contain especially high levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs).  They are formed from muscle meats during the cooking process and are identified as a carcinogen.

Fortunately, there are some easy tips on how to incorporate foods into your grilled meal that help reduce the formation of HCAs by as much as 70%, and here is how!

Use Marinades

Most often marinades contain some type of acid, such as, lemon juice or vinegar.  Acids will begin the process of breaking down proteins which decreases the cooking time and decreases the production of HCAs.

Add Garlic and Onions

Organosulfurs are found in garlic, onions, and shallots and have been shown to block HCA carcinogenesis.  Try adding garlic or onions to the marinade or sliding them into the flesh of the meat.

Enjoy Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Mint, Citrus, Olive Oil, Tea

Phenolic compounds are found in volatile oils of spices, seasonings, and citrus.  Phenolic compounds are known for their strong antioxidant capabilities which help the body to fight off dangerous compounds.  Add herbs, olive oil or citrus to your marinades, rubs, or mix-ins to ground meat.

Get Your Chlorophyll

The green plant pigment, chlorophyll, has the ability to neutralize the harmful HCAs which prevents them from causing damage to the body. Enjoy tasty leafy green salads or a side of cole slaw with your grilled meat to help block HCA carcinogenesis.

Avoid Well Done

The longer the meat is cooked the more HCAs that are produced.  Rare or medium-rare cooked meats have significantly lower levels of HCAs than well done meats. Use a thermometer and pull the meat off the grill before it reaches the desired temp (10 degrees). The final 10 degrees will be reached as the meat rests, and this will avoid overcooked meat and increased production of HCAs.

Turn Down the Heat

The high temperatures on the grill increase the production of HCAs through the grill marks.  Grilling at a lower temperature reduce this, and is the best way to cook grass-fed meat. Quickly sear the meat over high heat then reduce the heat to medium or low to finish the cooking process.

Keep in mind that, just like everything in life, moderation is key.  There is only an increased risk of cancer when excessive amounts of meats cooked at high temperatures are consumed.  You can still enjoy grilled meats, but just do so in moderation and use these tips to help decrease the amount of HCAs.