5 Healthy Grilling Tips

June 30, 2017 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

Hot weather and outdoor living means firing up the outdoor grill in many homes. Yet, before you throw that burger or steak on the barbecue, be aware research has shown that turning up the heat on meat can cause potentially cancer-causing substances to form.

Meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, arachidonic acid and heme iron.1-4  When grilled or even cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds are also formed.

Meat-related Carcinogens5

Formed in meats cooked at high temperatures

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish as a reaction between creatinine amino acids and glucose. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increases HCA production

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – formed from flames and smoke; when meat juices drip and flame hits meat

N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – formed in the stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives, found in processed meats

To minimize these harms, limit your portions consistent with a Nutritarian diet. Use only small amounts of meat mixed in with a bean burger and some mushrooms and onion. The phytates in the beans sop up the hydroxyl radicals and excess iron from the meat, reducing its toxicity. Also, anti-cancer foods like onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs.5-8 

Processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages should be completely avoided. NOCs are potent carcinogens. There is convincing evidence that processed meats (and red meats) are a cause of colorectal cancers, and high intake of processed meat is also associated with heart disease, stroke and diabetes.9-12

Fortunately, you don’t have to throw away your grill. Marinated vegetables, mushroom and bean burgers are safe and delicious choices. For those who choose to grill meat, do it with caution and only do it occasionally.

Here are five ways to enjoy foods on the grill while reducing your exposure to harmful substances:   

  1. Vegetables are especially delicious when grilled. All kinds of vegetables can be grilled and with the warm weather there is a wonderful variety. So make veggies your main dish.Fill a grilling basket with your favorite sliced vegetables, or make vegetable skewers. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and summer squash all combine well, but get creative with your top picks or seasonal harvests. Toss with a little water, balsamic vinegar, and some MatoZest or fresh or dried herbs such as basil, oregano or rosemary for a robust and nutritious dish.
  2. Try blending spices with walnuts and a bit of your favorite vinegar and brush it on the veggies frequently while on the grill. When grilling any starchy vegetables soak or marinate them first in a water-vinegar mix to add to their water content to minimize the production of acrylamide, which is a cooking-related carcinogen formed when starches are cooked at high temperatures.13 Avoid eating the blackened portions of grilled  vegetables.
  3. Make your own nutritious veggie burgers. Redefine the meat burger with bean or veggie burgers! Store-bought burgers often have added salt and concentrated soy protein. Try this recipe for Sunny Bean Burgers. 
  4. Portabella mushrooms are a delicious and satisfying alternative to burgers. Try marinating in your favorite vinegar, Serve on a toasted whole grain pita with sliced tomato, raw onion and a pesto dressing made from basil, avocado and pine nuts.
  5. Grill corn on the cob in the husk or make party corn cobs by husking, spraying lightly with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil and water, and sprinkling with your favorite herbs. Place on the grill for 6-10 minutes, rotating frequently to minimize browning.
  1. National Cancer Institute: Food Sources of Arachidonic Acid http://appliedresearch.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/fatty_acids/table4.html

  2. de Lorgeril M, Salen P: New insights into the health effects of dietary saturated and omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. BMC Med 2012;10:50.

  3. Kaaks R: Nutrition, insulin, IGF-1 metabolism and cancer risk: a summary of epidemiological evidence. Novartis Found Symp 2004;262:247-260; discussion 260-268.

  4. Brewer GJ: Iron and copper toxicity in diseases of aging, particularly atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. Exp Biol Med 2007;232:323-335.

  5. National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cooked-meats.
  6. Glahn RP, Wortley GM, South PK, et al: Inhibition of iron uptake by phytic acid, tannic acid, and ZnCl2: studies using an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell model. J Agric Food Chem 2002;50:390-395.

  7. Sugimura T: Nutrition and dietary carcinogens. Carcinogenesis 2000;21:387-395.

  8. Murray S, Lake BG, Gray S, et al: Effect of cruciferous vegetable consumption on heterocyclic aromatic amine metabolism in man. Carcinogenesis 2001;22:1413-1420.

  9. Continuous Update Project. Colorectal Cancer Report 2010 Summary: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer.: World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research; 2011.

  10. Chen GC, Lv DB, Pang Z, et al: Red and processed meat consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013;67:91-95.

  11. Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D: Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation 2010;121:2271-2283.

  12. John EM, Stern MC, Sinha R, et al: Meat Consumption, Cooking Practices, Meat Mutagens, and Risk of Prostate Cancer. Nutr Cancer 2011:1.

  13. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/ChemicalContaminants/ucm053549.htm

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.