Do you grill your food? Be careful, it could be harming your healthJul 01, 2021
- Fourth of July 🇺🇸 is just around the corner. You know what that means… it’s grilling season!
We need to be careful when it comes to grilling food. Why you ask? Isn’t grilling supposed to be one of the healthier ways to cook meat?
Grilling meat at HIGH temperatures leads to the production of harmful chemicals such as heterocyclic amines (aka HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (aka PAHs).
These compounds can cause DNA damage 🧬 and may increase the risk for developing cancer 😳. The amino acids and sugars present in meat react under high temperatures to form the HCAs. When cooking meat and liquid fat drips into the flames, this creates smoke filled with PAHs which then coats the surface of the meat being cooked.
HCAs and their metabolites can bind to estrogen receptors in breast tissue and have been shown to cause breast cancers in animal models (Fucic, et al, 2012). This means HCAs are xenoestrogens (aka endocrine disruptors) and can contribute to estrogen dominance, and worsen PCOS symptoms.
PAHs are also considered endocrine disruptors and women with PCOS or other hormonal imbalances would do best to avoid them.
So what can we do? The best solution would be to use other cooking methods. But, if you are going to grill there are several simple ways to balance out the harmful chemicals that occur during the process.
- Choose LEAN cuts of meat 🥩. Using leaner meats means less fat dripping into the flames and therefore, less smoke filled with PAHs.
- Remove skin from poultry 🐓. Removing the skin from poultry reduces HCA formation.
- MARINATE. Why not marinate? Marinating gives the meat more flavor, but even better than that, it can be protective against harmful chemicals. Marinades with vinegar or lemon/lime juice 🍋(think acidic marinades) are best for reducing the formation of HCAs. Avoid high sugar marinades (traditional barbecue sauces…) since they can INCREASE formation of HCAs. If you still want to use that sugary sauce, it is best to add these after the food has been cooked.
- SPICE 🌶 it up. This is my favorite tip for reducing the formation of HCAs. Herbs 🌿 and spices can significantly reduce these harmful chemicals when meats are grilled. How cool is that?! Some good options are: mint, onion, turmeric, garlic 🧄, rosemary, ginger, thyme, and red chili pepper. You can use them in marinades, mixed into ground meats, or as a dry rub.
- Avoid Charring. How long it takes the meat to cook is important. Try quicker-cooking meats like fish 🐟 or shrimp 🍤or cut meat into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time. Kabobs are a fun way to do this! Flip the meat frequently to allow the center to fully cook without overcooking the surface. If you do accidentally overcook the meat, the blackened or charred areas can be removed to reduce your overall exposure to HCAs and PAHs.
- Grill veggies and fruits 🍍. Antioxidant veggies and fruits can inhibit activity of HCAs and reduce DNA damage caused by these harmful substances. Grilling fruits and veggies is also delicious in general. Some good options are: zucchini, bell peppers 🫑, sweet potatoes🍠, apples 🍎, peaches 🍑, pineapple 🍍, or watermelon🍉!
What will you be cooking this 4th of July 🇺🇸? Let me know if you try out any of these tips for healthier grilling!
- Cheng KW,Wu Q, Zheng ZP, Peng X, Simon JE, Chen F,Wang M. Inhibitory effect of fruit extracts on the formation of heterocyclic amines. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Dec 12;55(25):10359-65.
- Cross AJ, Sinha R. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004;44(1):44-55.
- de Carvalho AM, Carioca AA, Fisberg RM, Qi L, Marchioni DM. Joint association of fruit, vegetable, and heterocyclic amine intake with DNA damage levels in a general population. Nutrition. 2016 Feb;32(2):260-4. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2015.08.018.
- Fucic et al. Environmental exposure to xenoestrogens and oestrogen related cancers: reproductive system, breast, lung, kidney, pancreas, and brain. Environmental Health. 2012; 11(Suppl1): S8. PMID: 22759508.
- Nagao M,Tsugane S. Cancer in Japan: Prevalence, prevention and the role of heterocyclic amines in human carcinogenesis. Genes and Environment. 2016;38:16. doi:10.1186/s41021-016-0043-y.
- Nerurkar PV, Le Marchand L, Cooney RV. Effects of marinating with Asian marinades or western barbecue sauce on PhIP and MeIQx formation in barbecued beef. Nutr Cancer. 1999;34(2):147-52.
- Richman EL, Stampfer MJ, Paciorek A, Broering JM, Carroll PR, Chan JM. Intakes of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs and risk of prostate cancer progression.Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(3):712-721.
- Smith JS, Ameri F, Gadgil P. Effect of marinades on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks. J Food Sci. 2008 Aug;73(6):T100-5.
- Viegas O, Amaro LF, Ferreira IM, Pinho O. Inhibitory effect of antioxidant-rich marinades on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in pan-fried beef. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Jun 20;60(24):6235-40. doi:10.1021/jf302227b.
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