Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is Your Grill the Next Joe Camel?

By: Alison

It’s July, so most of you have been grilling for several months, or all year round for those die-hard grillers. As a dietitian, I always recommend to grill, bake, broil, steam or sauté meats as opposed to frying. The number one reason is to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the prepared meat.

So here you are, firing up the grill every night, thinking you’re a lean grilling machine while serving up beef, chicken and fish with perfect grill marks. Then you start reading the latest headlines that grilling may be connected to cancer, diabetes and kidney disease. Time to throw in the towel and start eating KFC or become vegan, right?

Not so fast. Here’s some of the latest study findings on the link between grilling and disease:

AGEs -->Inflammation --> Diabetes, heart and kidney disease

According to an article in the July 2009 issue of Environmental Nutrition, compounds known as “advanced glycation endproducts” or AGEs, form in foods when they are exposed to high heat and little water. So frying, broiling, or grilling will increase AGEs in food more than steaming or boiling. AGEs can increase stress and inflammation in the body, leading to diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney disease. AGEs tend to be more of a problem in older people because kidney function tends to decline with age. When kidneys do not operate at their maximum capacity, they are less efficient at filtering out disease-causing compounds like AGEs.

PAHs & HCAs --> cancer-causing (carcinogenic)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are caner-causing agents formed by the fat drippings that fall into the hot grill. The developing smoke carries the PAHs into the meat. Longer grill time causes compounds within the meat to react and form heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been shown to cause breast, colon and prostate tumors in rats and mice.

Great. Now what?

1) Don’t fry. Frying is the worst way to prepare foods when it comes to developing AGEs. Not to mention, frying also packs on the saturated fat, leading to increased blood cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular issues.

2) Slow-cookers can be your friend. True, it’s not grilling, but slow cookers can yield some juicy-tasting dishes! Slower cooking will help reduce AGEs; however, slower cooking on the grill means more time on the grill, thus more time to increase PAHs and HCAs. When not grilling, a slow-cooker method is perfect to avoid all three disease-causing compounds.

3) Don’t charbroil are make shoe leather – decrease grill time. Try steaming, microwaving or slowly baking your food for a short period of time until cooked halfway, then finishing it off on the grill to reduce total grill time. When dining out, ask for meats cooked medium or medium-rare. NOTE: only do this at a reputable restaurant with a clean bill of health.

4) Choose low-fat, lean meats (as always). Grill meats that have a lower fat content to avoid fat drippings. Leaner cuts include 95% lean ground beef; plus round, shoulder, strip, tenderloin and T-bone cuts of steaks. The leanest cuts of meat (lowest fat content) include: eye of round roast, top round steak, mock tender steak, bottom round roast and top sirloin steak. Look for “choice” or “select” on the label; “prime” is real tasty, but a lot more fatty. As always, chicken or turkey breast and fish are great choices.

5) Spice it up with marinades. Use a spice-containing marinade to inhibit some of the carcinogen-forming compounds. One study has shown that the more spices in the marinade, the better to fight against HCA formation.

6) Be veggie-licious. Add more veggies! As always, use the healthy “plate method” when eating. Fill ¼ of your plate with a lean protein (meat) choice, ¼ with your starch (potato, pasta, rice, etc.) and at least ½ filled with veggies!

As I’m writing this post, I feel bad. I sound like the food police and just rained on your barbecue parade. Please don’t trade in your grill! If you use the grill once or twice a week, this isn’t too excessive. If you think you are the next Bobby Flay, grilling every night, try cutting out 2-3 grill nights and do some steaming, slow-cooking or even cooking up marinated veggies or tofu on the grill for a “vegetarian” night.

These studies are not the be-all, end-all to grilling. Just as we are increasing our awareness on sun exposure and skin cancer, it doesn’t mean you should become a True Blood vampire and only to come out at night. There’s sun block. Think of decreasing grill nights and less use of fatty meats as the “sun block” of grilling. Does that make sense?

To make up for my bad informative news in this post, I promise to post some healthy grilling ideas very soon!


Could Broiling and Grilling Be Almost as Bad for You as Frying? Environmental Nutrition, (2009, July) [32(7)], 3.

Ehrensberger, B.S. (2007, May). How to Minimize Your Exposure to Cancer-Causing Chemicals In This Grilling Season. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from Web site:

Parker-Pope, T. (2009, May 22). Reducing the Risks of Holiday Grilling. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from New York Times Health Blog Web site:

Zeratsky, K. (2008, October 10). Buying beef? A guide to choosing the leanest cuts. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from Web site:

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