If you are like many eastern Iowans, you dust off the grill for summer parties, family gatherings and quick and easy picnics. But how much do you know about making grilling a bit healthier for your friends and family? First, read the latest recommendations for healthier grilling from American Institute for Cancer Research. Then take the quiz and find out what you learned. Give the recipes a try if you are looking for something new or different to grill!
Mary Beth Peiffer and Beth Beckett
Oncology dietitians at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center
Cancer Experts Issue Warning on Grilling Safety
Healthier Choices and a Bit of Prep Can Reduce Carcinogens and Increase Flavor
Cooking meat at high temperatures is known to produce cancer-causing chemicals. At the start of the grilling season, experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) are warning about the hidden health hazards of cookouts and campfires, and suggesting how grilling can be made safer.
“Research shows that diets high in red and processed meat increase risk for colon cancer,” said AICR’s Senior Director of Nutrition Programs, Alice Bender. “And grilling meat, red or white, at high temperatures forms potent cancer-causing substances (HCA’s). But by keeping five simple steps in mind, it is possible to make this summer’s backyard grilling both healthier and more flavorful.”
Step One: Mix Up the Meat
The first thing to understand is that the meat you choose to grill is just as important as how you grill it. Diets high in red meat (beef, pork and lamb), are linked to increased risk for colon cancer regardless of how you cook it. And even small amounts of processed meat (hot dogs, sausages) ramp up the risk.
So, don’t get stuck on steak, burgers and franks; get creative with fish and chicken, using spices, herbs, hot peppers and sauces to liven up tender chunks of white meat. Remember, AICR recommends no more than modest quantities of red meat (about 18oz per week).
Step Two: Marinate, Marinate, Marinate
Charring and cooking meat, poultry and fish under high heat causes compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form. These substances have shown the ability to damage our DNA in ways that make cancer more likely.
Studies have shown that marinating meat, poultry and fish for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs. Using a mixture that includes vinegar, lemon juice or wine along with oil, herbs and spices seems to be the key. Marinating the meat has a bigger impact on reducing HCA formation than reducing cooking temperature. Scientists are still investigating precisely how these marinades help lower HCAs, but it’s possible that compounds in these ingredients are responsible.
Step Three: Partially Pre-Cook
PAHs are deposited onto the meat by smoke. By reducing the amount of time meat spends exposed to flame by first partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove, you can reduce the amount of PAHs you generate and ingest.
(Be sure to place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill immediately after pre-cooking. This helps keep the food safe from bacteria and other food pathogens that can cause illness.)
Step Four: Stay Low
Cook the meat over a low flame. Doing so can reduce the formation of both HCAs and PAHs, and help keep burning and charring to a minimum.
Reduce flare-ups by keeping fat and juices out of the fire: cut visible fat off the meat, move coals to the side of the grill and cook your meat in the center of the grill. Finally, cut off any charred portions of the meat before serving.
Step Five: Throw Some Color on the Grill
Grilled vegetables taste great! And by loading up on plant foods, you can cut back on red and processed meats. Colorful vegetables and fruits contain fiber, vitamins and naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals. These substances add anti-cancer action to your backyard bash.
Try onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers or tomatoes in thick slices on the grill, in a grill basket or in chunks for kebabs. Another favorite: corn on the cob. Grilling brings out the sweetness in veggies, so even reluctant veggie eaters can find something to love. Grilled pineapple is another great idea but there are many other options too.
Healthy Grilling Quiz
Are you doing everything you can to keep yourself healthy and safe?
- Studies suggest that marinating meat before grilling can decrease formation of HCAs. T F
- Pre-cooking your meat before putting it on the grill can lead to a safer meal. T F
- Sticking to steak and burgers is the only way to make sure you have a safe meal. T F
- Keep the flame high so the meat is cooked quickly and thoroughly. T F
- Grilling colorful fruits and vegetables is a great idea for a delicious, healthier spread and they won’t contain HCA’s. T F
- T 2. T 3. F 4. F 5. T
Grilled Vegetable Platter
Prep: 20 min. + marinating
Grill: 10 min.
Yield: 6 servings
Serving Size: 1 serving
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Dash salt
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
- 3 small carrots, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 large sweet red pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
- 1 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 medium red onion, cut into wedges
- In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients. Place 3 tablespoons marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Add vegetables; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate 1-1/2 hours at room temperature.
- Transfer vegetables to a grilling grid; place grid on grill rack. Grill vegetables, covered, over medium heat 8-12 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.
- Place vegetables on a large serving plate. Drizzle with remaining marinade.
Test Kitchen Tips
- Common olive oil works better for cooking at high heat than virgin or extra-virgin oil. These higher grades have ideal flavor for cold foods, but they smoke at lower temperatures.
- If you do not have a grilling grid, use a disposable foil pan. Poke holes in the bottom of the pan with a meat fork to allow liquid to drain.
Per Serving: 144 calories, 9g fat (1g saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 50mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate (11g sugars, 3g fiber), 2g protein.
Originally published as Grilled Vegetable Platter in Simple & Delicious May/June 2009
The Best Way to Grill Fruit
Grilling is a delicious, healthy way to bring out the flavor of fruit. It’s easy to do outdoors or indoors and works for produce from any season. Some of our favorite fruits to grill include bananas, watermelon, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, pineapple, and mango, but let your imagination run wild! Whatever you choose, follow the steps below for flawlessly flame-kissed fruit.
Choose Fruit That’s Ripe—but Not Too Ripe
You want to grill fruit right before you’d normally eat it as is. The raw fruit should be slightly firm so that it holds up on the grill. The heat caramelizes the sugars in fruit and weakens the structure, so something overripe or mushy will be more likely to fall apart.
Bigger Is Better
Cut fruit into large chunks to keep it from falling between the bars of the grill grate. Even if you’re working with a grill pan indoors, you want to go for bigger pieces in order to maintain the structure of the fruit. Bonus tip: If you’re grilling bananas, keep them in the peel to protect the soft texture—the high heat will ensure that they cook through.
Choose Your Fat
Brush fruit with a neutral oil that can stand up to high-heat, such as safflower or grapeseed oil. Melted unsalted butter or clarified butter also works well.
Do Not Disturb
Grill fruit over high heat for three minutes without moving or turning it to get the perfect sear (and coveted grill marks!). Flip and cook for one to three minutes more.
Get Creative with Pairing
Grilled fruit is equally delectable in sweet and savory applications—the possibilities are endless. Try peaches alongside pork chops or chicken. Watermelon makes a refreshing summer salad when combined with feta cheese, mint or basil, olive oil, and flaky sea salt. Pop bananas out of their skin and top with ice cream and chocolate sauce for a new take on banana splits.
From Martha Stewart
For more cancer-fighting diet and nutrition recommendations from our oncology dietitians, visit our nutrition resources page.