Prevent Cancer Causing Chemicals in Your Grilled Food

One third of all cancer deaths are related to poor diet and lack of exercise. The American Cancer Society calls on all of us to change that statistic. “Community efforts are needed to create an environment that makes it easier for us to make healthy choices when it comes to diet and physical activity.” We agree. Koko FitClub’s mission is to make it simple for people to get, and stay, healthy. In that spirit, enjoy this week’s blog post chock full of easy ways to avoid cancer risk by making better choices about what you eat! And then, sign up for The Koko 5 Milllion Point Challenge on May 4th benefiting Relay For Life®!

By  Debra Wein, MS, RD, CSSD, NSCA-CPT, CWPD

It’s almost barbecue season (fingers crossed!) and you might be thinking about pulling out the grill as the weather gets nicer. Before you start preparing those marinades, research shows that there are two potential carcinogens that you may be exposed to.  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in the smoke created when fat drips from meat or fish onto a heat source, like the coals of your grill. The PAH-smoke coats the food, which we then ingest. The second type of carcinogen is called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which form when meat is cooked over very high heat.  The HCAs are the caused by a chemical reaction that takes place, under extremely high  temperatures,  between the naturally occurring amino acids in the food and creatine present in muscle tissue.

I’m happy to say it’s easy to take a few precautions and stay on the healthy side of the grill.

  1. Do not eat charred pieces of meat or fish.  At the very least, eat them sparingly.
  2. Trim the visible fat to cut down on drippings.
  3. Switch to fish, which tends to have much less fat and will reduce the cooking time (and risk!)
  4. Oil your grill to prevent charred bits from getting stuck on your food.
  5. Use aluminum foil on top of the grill by making little holes and placing the meat or fish on top.  This will allow the barbecue flavor to still reach your food and will prevent any carcinogens from forming.
  6. Clean your grill regularly.
  7. Leave sugar-laden marinades until the end, after the food is cooked. Sugar caramelizes and potentially burns when exposed to high heat.

Some of the same choices you can make to avoid the formation of carcinogenic compounds when grilling can also help you boost your immune system and combat cancer-causing agents. First, choose lean proteins such as fish or poultry in place of red meat. Second, up your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes are all rich in antioxidants.  Fresh fruits to choose from are papaya, kiwis and strawberries.  Fruits and vegetables are delicious and nutritious when grilled if you take the proper precautions as stated above.

Happy Grilling!


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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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