The best things in life comes with a great price like this dangerous and delicious looking grilled ribs.

Are you doing this with your meat? It could be killing you!

When it comes to cooking meat, you’ve probably heard that grilling is the healthiest ways to go, right?

Not so much.

This seemingly healthy cooking process could be turning your meat into a cancer-causing killer.

I didn’t know this myself until recently… but grilling meats and fish on the barbecue can create 2 chemical compounds that may contribute to cancer.

#1: Heterocyclic amines or HCAs. They form when the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react with the high heat of grilling.

#2: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs. These form when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames containing PAHs then rise in the smoke and stick to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food-preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Studies show that exposure to HCAs and PAHs can cause cancers in laboratory animals. A diet supplemented with HCAs led to tumors of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate and other organs, while a diet supplemented with PAHs led to cancers, including leukemia and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.

Of course, you should know the doses of HCAs and PAHs used in these studies were very high — equivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet.

Even so, it’s scary stuff.

Is there a safe way to grill?

I don’t know about you, but I love a good grilled steak once in a while. The thought of not being able to barbecue ever again makes me sad.

But there is good news. There are ways to make grilling safer. Here are some suggestions:

Precook your meat. Cook it halfway over low heat in a skillet or in the oven before putting it on the grill. Or preheat in the microwave. This will reduce the time on the barbecue and will reduce the liquid in the meat. That means there’s less to react when grilled later.

One way of reducing the dangers of grilled dishes would be wrapping it with an aluminum foil.

Use aluminum foil. This will prevent drippings from smoking and reduce the amount of PAHs blowing into your food.

Use leaner cuts of meat. And trim excess fat. Doing so will help cut down on drippings. And it’s healthier for you all around.

Grill on medium heat. Not high — it’s the high heat that causes the reaction. For a charcoal grill, spread the coals thin or prop the grill rack on bricks. This reduces the heat by increasing the distance between your food and the coals.

Lightly oil the grill before you use it. This simple step keeps charred materials from sticking to your food. And scrub the grill after each use to keep cancer-causing chemicals from building up.

Turn meat frequently. This can reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it frequently.

Remove any meat that’s charred. And never make gravy with meat drippings.

Marinate meat using herbs with protective benefits. A study in the Journal of Food Science found that soaking steaks in a Caribbean marinade for an hour before grilling cut HCAs by almost 90%.

The marinade included a wide variety of herbs and spices, but the protective action is primarily attributed to rosemary and thyme.

Why?

These herbs contain a trio of compounds (carnosic acid, carnosol and rosmarinic acid) that are powerful antioxidants.

So try using rosemary, thyme, oregano or basil in your next meat marinade. These aromatic herbs combine well with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, all spice and other marinade staples. Plus, they work equally well in mild and spicy varieties.

And remember, a barbecue doesn’t have to be limited to meats. Make veggie and fruit kabobs with peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions and pineapples. It’s a delicious way to load up on cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Happy grilling!

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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Reference:

1. Smith JS, Ameri F, Gadgil P. Effect of marinades on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks. J Food Sci. 2008 Aug;73(6):T100-105. PMID: 19241593.

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20 comments

  1. Use real wood coals and don’t burn your food.naff said

  2. Air Commodore (Retd) Dr HSR Arora

    Dear Sir,
    The subject covered is really pertinent & important.Dr Steven Sissikind deserve laurels. I wish to add ,when we cook any thing in open on fire it releases DIOXINES & FURANS are unique gaseous chemicals known to cause varieties of CANCERS. All should take care.Thanks.

  3. Air Commodore (Retd) Dr HSR Arora

    Extremely pertinent issue has been raised compliments to you. When we cook any thing on fire directly it releases DIOXINES & FURANS gases/ chemicals both the gases are known to cause varieties of CANCERS. The methods explained by Dr. Steve Sisskind are important & he deserves laurels . Thanks

  4. Aluminium foil with food?!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Maril,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting your question! I completely understand your concern but food grade aluminum foil can be used for cooking. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  5. Brenda dominguez

    I understand that grilling with any wood brings out positive energy &that’s why we do it all the time!

  6. Brenda dominguez

    we grill with all kinds of wood! whats the difference?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! The kinds of wood you use for cooking affects flavor and you are free to use any variety you like. However, I do recommend that you use untreated wood as much as possible in order to avoid harmful fumes from chemicals such as lacquer or termite solvents, for example. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  7. For these reasons we have purchased an electric grill. The temperature can be controlled and no flame results when turning the meat. Also, we enjoy having an outside oven on a hot summer day.

    • Are flare ups bad on gas grills as well? Also,this charocal makes me want to buy it just because it has coconut. I wonder if you smell it. I really like this one.

  8. Interesting..how about smoking (using a smoker) instead of grilling?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Millicent,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! A smoker is a good way to cook meat due to the gentle heat. However, you may need to cut your meat into fairly thin slices to help facilitate cooking and be sure to carve out the charred and burnt parts. Have a healthy day!

  9. Dr, Steve, When I took The Pritiken course. He would say not toe eat charcoal meat. He would say one hamburger is like 10 cigarettes. I guess it goes in stages, some of the ideas seemed pretty far fetched then. But, it so fun to watch the meat being cooked. It tastes so good. But, is it really healthy. Is there something to take to compensate for eating the grilled meat? Also, is there a cleanse that you recommend to help reduce the bad effects of whatever you have indulged in? That way a person could enjoy the meal knowing that there won’t be any side effects. Thanks for being there for us. Esther

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Esther,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I know what you mean as I cannot say no to perfectly cooked meat myself. There is no need to compensate, per se, when you eat meat. Instead I do encourage you to have a balanced meal in order to maintain a healthy blood glucose level and plenty of fibers to help move things along after digestion. Exercise is an excellent way to burn off the calories as well as keep your metabolic rate at a steady pace. Lastly, a colon cleanse with probiotics every now and then will help maintain good digestive health, but only if you are comfortable in embarking on such a regimen. Hope this helps, Esther! Have a healthy day!

  10. When I cook on the grill, I spray oil on the heavy duty aluminum foil before I place the food on the grill. This seems to protect the meat/fish/vegetables during cooking, and hopefully keeps those nasty HCAs and PAHs to a minimum!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi John,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your idea! That is an interesting thought and I am inclined to try that myself. Have a healthy day!

  11. Better – put the coals in holders at the side of the grill and ‘bake’ the meat. Use hardwood charcoal NOT petroleum based briquets. Still has the grill flavor and no direct flames on the meat.

  12. My wife has a PhD and has taught statistics in a renown Medical School. Her review of this article was that the research findings using exposure rates “thousands of times” the rate a human exposure could occur invalids the findings and comments. Note exposure to thousands of times the normal rate of WATER, FRUITS and VEGGIES (and their contents) will cause cancer. Stop the scare tactics and stick to valid issues. These researchers were probably looking for Grant money.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Tom,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I am terribly sorry for the confusion with regards to the article above and please allow me to clarify the discussion a little further. Yes, while I do agree that a rate of exposure “thousands of times” the normal rate will indeed bring bodily harm, it was not intended to cause confusion to the reader and lead them to worry.

      The article and the studies, was intended to point out that there are health risks when meat is cooked over high heat and that the toxins produced can cause serious damage in the long run. I find it important to highlight that fact in order to help disseminate information about proper cooking methods in order to decrease one’s chances of developing serious but avoidable illnesses in their future.

      At RealDose Nutrition, we are committed to helping others make the transition to better health. This involves not only giving them quality products, which we know can help, but also discussing health issues that are relevant today. We believe that by sharing the latest information and discussing these, we are able to not just inform but also educate the folks that have read our articles.

      That said, I greatly appreciate you for sharing your thoughts with us and I hope this has helped clear the air, Tom! Have a healthy day!

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