A simple marinade can reduce toxins by 90%

Grilling can be among the healthiest types of cooking because it gives foods a delicious flavor while using little or no added fat. But grilling also can produce toxic compounds.

Study: Researchers at University of Minnesota analyzed data on the cooking methods, amount of meat eaten and the doneness of meat for nearly 63,000 participants. They found that those who preferred their steaks well-done and who used grilling and other high-heat cooking methods were about 60% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who cooked their meat at a lower temperature and/or for less time.

Other studies have confirmed that the high heats used in grilling increase the risk for a variety of cancers, including cancers of the colon and rectum.

Example: Another study based on data from the Ontario Cancer Registry found that people who ate well-done red meat more than twice a week had a 57% higher risk of developing colon cancer than those who ate their meat medium or rare.

To reduce cancer risk, it’s always wise to limit your intake of red meat to no more than 18 ounces (cooked) a week and minimize consumption of processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon and sausage. There also are simple steps to take to reduce grilling dangers…


Grills that burn gas, briquettes or hardwood charcoal easily can achieve temperatures of 500°F or more…covered ceramic grills can exceed 1,000°F. High heats are ideal for searing meats and sealing in the juices, but prolonged cooking at high temperatures produces dangerous chemical by-products. These include…

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which form when animal proteins, including the proteins in meat, chicken and fish, are cooked at high temperatures for extended periods. “The Report on Carcinogens,” produced by the National Toxicology Program, lists IQ (one type of HCA) as a compound reasonably anticipated to cause cancer.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed when the fat from cooking meat drips onto a heat source (such as hot coals or metal or ceramic “smoke bars”) and produces a smoky flare-up. Like HCAs, PAHs are thought to be potent carcinogens.

Advanced glycation end products, chemical compounds that might increase the risk for cancer. They are produced at higher levels when foods are cooked at hot temperatures for prolonged periods.


Take the following steps to reduce risk…

Marinate. Meat that is marinated for as little as 15 to 20 minutes prior to grilling produces up to 90% less HCAs than unmarinated meat. We don’t know why this happens. It might be because the acidic ingredients used in marinades, such as lemon juice and vinegar, change the molecular structure of meat protein and inhibit HCA production.

Season with spices. Meats that are coated with antioxidant herbs and spices, such as rosemary, turmeric, ginger and cumin, as well as garlic, produce fewer HCAs during grilling than unseasoned meats. Again, we’re not sure why.

Cook cooler. For cancer prevention, the temperature of the grill is more important than the time on the grill. One study found that meats cooked at a lower-than-usual temperature but for two minutes longer had only about one-third of the HCAs as meat that was cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter time and to the same doneness.

After searing the meat, move it to a cooler part of the grill…or raise the grill rack a few inches so that the meat is farther from the heat. With gas grills, you can use the high-heat setting to quickly sear the meat, then lower the flames for slower cooking.

Shorten the cooking time. Meat that is cooked rare, medium-rare or medium will produce significantly lower levels of HCAs than meat that’s well-done. When grilling a medium-rare steak, the internal temperature should be 145°F—that’s hot enough to kill disease-causing microorganisms but cool enough to limit the production of HCAs.

A steak cooked to medium doneness will be 160°F inside. Important: Always cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill salmonella and other organisms.

You also can shorten cooking time by precooking in a microwave or an oven. Do this with foods such as chicken and ribs. I wouldn’t recommend it for burgers or steak, though, because precooking removes some of the juices that make these foods flavorful.

Cut meat into small pieces before grilling. Chunks of beef or pork (when making kebabs, for example) will cook more quickly than a whole steak or roast, which will reduce the level of HCAs.

Cook lean to avoid flare-ups. Slicing off the visible fat from meats before grilling reduces fatty flare-ups and the production of PAHs. Also, avoid fatty cuts of meat (such as rib-eye steak), and choose lean beef for hamburgers.

Avoid smoking foods. People often use mesquite or other types of wood chips when grilling and smoking meats. The smoke produced by these chips may increase cancer risks.

Use more vegetables. HCAs are produced only when animal proteins are subjected to high-heat cooking…and PAHs are produced by fat drippings.

You can avoid both risks by grilling vegetables, such as onions, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and peppers. A little olive oil brushed on veggies before grilling is fine.

By shifting the balance in a meal to a smaller portion of meat, fish or poultry and adding more vegetables, there are two benefits—less meat automatically means less of meat’s cell-damaging compounds, and more plant foods means more of the protective phytochemicals that inactivate those compounds.