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Healthy Barbecue Tip No. 9: Lower potential cancer risks associated with grilling.

PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) are substances formed on the surface of well-done meat cooked at high temperatures. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recently concluded that the evidence that these two substances increase the risk of cancer in humans is "limited but suggestive."

PAHs, in particular, come from smoke, which is formed when fat drips from meat onto the grill. "Technically, anything that spends any time around smoke will contain some level of PAHs," explains Glen Weldon, head of education and communications at the AICR. The good news is many of the grilling suggestions in the first eight tips help reduce your intake of these two substances.

But what you grill is perhaps more important than how often you grill. A recently published AICR report concluded that diets high in red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and especially processed meats are a "convincing: cause of colorectal cancer."

Keep in mind that grilling vegetables and fruit produces negligible HCAs or PAHs. In fact, diets that are high in plant foods in general are associated with a reduced risk of several cancers.

Here are a few grilling suggestions to reduce your cancer risk:

  • Use a low-fat marinade. Some research suggests that marinating meat (even briefly) significantly reduces the formation of HCAs. Including garlic and onions in the marinade may also help reduce HCA formation on cooked meat.
  • Select leaner cuts (and trim any visible fat), to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which may deposit carcinogens on the meat.
  • Flip the meat on the grill often. This will help reduce the amount of carcinogens that are potentially deposited on the meat.
  • You can also reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat from the meat to drain.

Healthy Barbecue Tip No. 10: Just say no to processed meat.

The AICR report recommends limiting your consumption of cooked red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week (the equivalent of about 6 quarter-pound hamburgers). Things get more dismal for processed meats. When the AICR did an analysis of the available evidence, it found that every 3.5 ounces of processed meat eaten per day increased the risk for colorectal cancer by 42%. Processed meats include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, and cold cuts, among others.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

Published May 23, 2008.

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