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HOT Grilling Safety Tips

Warmer weather and outdoor grilling often go hand-in-hand. Yet, research has shown that turning up the heat can cause potentially cancer-causing substances to form. Here are some ways to grill in the great outdoors while reducing your exposure to harmful substances.

  • Make vegetables your main attraction! If you have a grilling basket, fill it 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. Try blending spices with walnuts and a bit of your favorite vinegar and brush it on the veggies frequently while grilling. If you are grilling any starchy vegetables you can 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.1,2 Avoid eating the blackened portions of grilled vegetables, starchy or non-starchy.

  • Meat-related Carcinogens3

    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
  • Redefine the burger with bean or veggie burgers! Store-bought burgers often have added salt and concentrated soy protein, but you can make your own nutritious burgers. Try this recipe for Sunny Bean Burgers and toss them on the grill.

  • As an alternative to burgers, serve up grilled portabella mushrooms (marinated in your favorite vinegar) and serve on a toasted whole grain pita with sliced tomato, raw onion and a pesto dressing made from basil, avocado and pine nuts.

  • 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.

  • When it comes to grilling, vegetables, mushroom and bean burgers are the safest choices. But for those who choose to grill and eat meat occasionally:

    • Keep in mind that meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, arachidonic acid and heme iron.4-7 When grilled or even cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds are also formed (see box).

    • 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.8-11

  • Completely avoid processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages. 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.12-15

  • References:

    1. Parzefall W: Minireview on the toxicity of dietary acrylamide. Food Chem Toxicol 2008;46:1360-1364.
    2. Hogervorst JG, Baars BJ, Schouten LJ, et al: The carcinogenicity of dietary acrylamide intake: a comparative discussion of epidemiological and experimental animal research. Crit Rev Toxicol 2010;40:485-512.
    3. National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cooked-meats. Accessed July 1, 2014.
    4. National Cancer Institute: Food Sources of Arachidonic Acid [http://appliedresearch.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/fatty_acids/table4.html]
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Brewer GJ: Iron and copper toxicity in diseases of aging, particularly atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. Exp Biol Med 2007;232:323-335.
    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. Walters DG, Young PJ, Agus C, et al: Cruciferous vegetable consumption alters the metabolism of the dietary carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) in humans. Carcinogenesis 2004;25:1659-1669.
    10. Kurzawa-Zegota M, Najafzadeh M, Baumgartner A, et al: The protective effect of the flavonoids on food-mutagen-induced DNA damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes from colon cancer patients. Food Chem Toxicol 2012;50:124-129.
    11. Wilson C, Aboyade-Cole A, Newell O, et al: Diallyl sulfide inhibits PhIP-induced DNA strand breaks in normal human breast epithelial cells. Oncol Rep 2007;17:807-811.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. John EM, Stern MC, Sinha R, et al: Meat Consumption, Cooking Practices, Meat Mutagens, and Risk of Prostate Cancer. Nutr Cancer 2011:1.

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