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Summer BBQ...hold the carcinogens!

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s nothing better than the smell of barbecue on a summer evening. Grilling outside is almost synonymous with warmer weather and is certainly a great way to bring people together.

Sadly, many of us probably have a ‘Karen’ in our lives that likes to tell everyone that grilling causes cancer. Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s a little dramatic.

However, there may be the tiniest grain of truth behind that blown-out-of-proportion claim. So let’s talk about it.

Two carcinogens may be produced when barbecuing red meat, poultry, lamb, pork, or fish. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when cooking at very high temperatures or when meat becomes overcooked. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), on the other hand, are formed when meat becomes charred or when fat drips onto the coal and PAHs are carried up to the food by the rising smoke.

But fear not! There are some very simple things you can do to mitigate these risks and still enjoy your next backyard barbecue:

(1) Avoid overheating or overcooking Not everyone wants their meat to be rare and that’s totally fair! One option is to pre-cook the meat in a pressure cooker first so that it needs less time on the barbecue. Alternatively, you could use a thermometer and take the meat off the grill as soon as it reaches the recommended internal temperature.

Here’s a handy little cheat sheet for the recommended internal temperatures:

Fish: 62°C

Pork: 71°C

Chicken: 74°C

(2) Remove the fat Get low-fat cuts or trim the fat on meat to minimize the amount of fat dripping onto the charcoal and reduce PAH production.

(3) Foil the meat Alternatively, using aluminum foil with holes poked in is an easy little hack to shield the food from direct contact with the PAHs.

(4) Marinate the meat Marinades, like teriyaki and vinegar-based ones, seem to produce less carcinogens than meats without it. And of course, they add some wonderful flavour as well!

(5) Use aromatic herbs Compounds in herbs like rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme can reduce HCA formation. Plus, who can resist their wonderful aroma?

Remember: Like most things in nutrition and health, the overall eating pattern matters a lot more than the occasional meal. You can certainly enjoy your BBQ without fear!

Stay nourished my friends,


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