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Is Grilling Out Actually Good for You — or Not that Great?

Summer seems to go hand in hand with one of America’s most popular summer activities: grilling out! Summer grilling recipes often focus on maximizing the bounty of the season’s fresh foods.

Many believe that grilling their food is a healthier alternative to fried food or grabbing fast food on the run. But is grilling as healthy as some think it is?

The Problem with Grilling

While so many of us love a backyard barbecue, research suggests that grilling food can lead to the formation of harmful, cancer-causing chemicals (HCAs and PAHs).

How does that happen? HCAs and PAHs are created in protein when exposed to high heat. Since these chemicals are carcinogenic, they can pose a risk through repeated exposure. Exposing meat to high temperatures is the main concern in terms of grilling and cancer risk. But all char-grilled foods (cooked over coals instead of gas) could increase your chances of developing cancer by as much as 60 percent.

When fat and juice from meat drips into the flames on the grill, it causes your food to have more direct contact with smoke. Exposure to that smoke is one of the primary ways that these harmful chemicals form in grilled food.

Another issue: grease and leftover particles on the grill from previous uses can transfer to the food you’re currently grilling. This residue can also become charred, leading to flare-ups that can increase the amount of smoke. But don’t worry, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your carcinogen exposure. Here are some grilling tips to help you enjoy a healthier meal this summer.

Where to Begin: Healthier Grilling Guide

Your grill itself is actually the first place to start! You can take action to prevent the formation of carcinogens before you even turn on the grill. Be sure to thoroughly clean the grill racks prior to each use. This prevents caked on char and grease from transferring to your food, which prevents transferring those chemicals along with it.

Before grilling meats, cut away the fat to reduce the juices that might drip into the flames. Also flip meat frequently during grilling and cut away any parts that are charred before eating.

Healthy grilling can also depend on what you’re grilling. Grilled corn on the cob, Portobello mushrooms, red bell peppers and tomatoes are not only great for added color and nutrients — they are also lower risk when it comes to grilling. Why? Vegetables don’t contain the animal protein where the carcinogenic chemicals, or HCAs, mostly form.

Just be sure to avoid char-grilling your foods, a process that always poses risk. If you find yourself craving meat, try kebabs that include a few veggies. Less meat and more veggies reduces your exposure to carcinogens while still satisfying that craving.

Marinated steaks, pork chops and chicken are favorites for many grilled summertime meals. You can minimize your risk by choosing your marinades carefully. Marinating can add flavor while also protecting your health by creating a barrier for the meat. Try acidic marinades or marinating meat in beer or wine to add healthy flavor and reduce the health risks.

The grilling tips outlined above can help you enjoy that delicious grilled taste with a lower risk of carcinogens. By following these guidelines, you can create healthier meals for your family this summer and enjoy grilling more safely!

Be sure to stay cool when grilling outside in the hot sun. And if you need help, visit an urgent care center near you to get back to summer fun fast!