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7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Barbecue

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Memorial Day Picnic Planning a Memorial Day cookout? Make it a healthy one! Here is some excellent advice from Stop Aging Now founder, Jean Carper, on how to minimize the cancer risks associated with grilling meat.


Adapted from an article by Jean Carper originally published on StopAgingNow.com on July 1, 2001.


Those burgers, steaks, or ribs sizzling on the grill are cooking up chemicals that can help turn your cells cancerous. High heat reacts with proteins in red meat, poultry and fish to create heterocyclic amines (HCAs), chemicals that are linked to cancer, especially of the colon and breast. Because these HCAs form within cooked meat, you can’t get rid of them by scraping off char. But scientists have come up with ingenious ways to dramatically reduce the hazard. Precisely why these methods work is still a mystery, but research shows they do.

1. Flip burgers often. Turning burgers once a minute and cooking over lower heat reduces HCAs and kills potentially deadly E. coli bacteria, finds a new study at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Important: Use a meat thermometer to make sure a burger’s internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, needed to deactivate E. coli. Just because meat is brown doesn’t mean it’s thoroughly cooked.

2. Use the right marinade. Slash HCAs by marinating raw meat in a thin, very liquid sauce for at least 10 minutes, or more to taste. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that a teriyaki marinade reduced HCAs 67%; a turmeric-garlic sauce, 50%. The key is to use a watery sauce: When a thick, concentrated commercial barbecue sauce was used, it actually tripled HCAs. So dilute thick sauces.

3. Enhance with E. Adding vitamin E to raw ground meat hinders HCAs, says J. Ian Gray, Ph.D., of Michigan State University. His tests showed that 120 milligrams of vitamin E powder mixed into or sprinkled on 3.5-ounce patties can reduce HCA formation as much as 72%. Just crack open a capsule of  vitamin E.

4. Try a “fruit burger.” Mixing a pound of ground meat with a cup of ground, fresh, tart cherries before grilling suppresses 90% of HCA formation, according to research at Michigan State. A possible reason: Cherries are high in HCA-blocking antioxidants. Researchers say other deep-colored fruits rich in antioxidants (like grapes, blueberries or plums) should work, too.

5. Add garlic and herbs. In tests, garlic, rosemary and sage reduced HCAs, Gray says. Mix them into burgers, use them in marinades or just eat them in a meal with grilled meat. Antioxidants in citrus fruits also block HCAs.

6. Don’t order meat very well-done. The longer meat is cooked at high temperatures (grilling, broiling, frying) the more HCAs are produced. Cooking steaks very well-done, compared with well-done, doubles HCAs. To minimize HCAs, grill beefsteaks and lamb rare or medium-rare. But always cook burgers, pork and poultry well-done to avoid food poisoning.

7. Skip the meat; grill “green.” Fruits and vegetables don’t contain creatine, the animal protein needed to make HCAs. Pineapple and peppers are great grilled. Also, eating fruits, vegetables and green salads along with barbecued meat lessens the cancer hazard.


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Article updated on: May 27th, 2011

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2 Responses to “ 7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Barbecue ”

  1. [...] here are a few simple tips which can reduce the formation of HCAs and lessen their impact on your [...]

  2. [...] -Malignant stories discussing barbecue’s supposed link to, well, cancer; anyone want to learn about “7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Barbecue”? [...]