Taming the Flame

Enjoy summer grilling with an ounce of prevention

image of plate filled with barbecued food
Visit the American Institute for Cancer Research to learn more about safe grilling.

Each year we field questions from our patients about whether it's safe to grill, given the evidence that grilled meats may contain cancer-causing agents. But new guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that the type of food you grill may be more important than how you prepare it.

Hot dogs and hamburgers-the all-American summer standards-may be among the worst culprits in causing colorectal cancer. Research has shown a convincing link between diets high in processed meat and red meat-which includes beef, pork and lamb. Every 3.5 ounces of processed meat-about two hot dogs-increases the risk for colorectal cancer by 42%.

Given the data, we recommend that our patients follow AICR guidelines. Limit the amount of red meat you eat. Think of it as an occasional indulgence. Make processed meats including hot dogs a treat for a special occasion-like an annual outing at the ballpark. Use these guidelines year round to lower your risk.

And this summer, continue to use caution when grilling. All animal meats produce cancer-causing chemicals when they are seared at high temperatures-whether on a grill or on a conventional stove. It's still unclear whether eating these chemicals will increase your cancer risk. But while researchers continue to learn more about whether there's a link between grilling and cancer, consider the strategies we offer at right to limit your exposure.

You can protect yourself and still enjoy a backyard barbecue.


You know the blackened bits that cling to the meat? The stuff cooks love for its flavor? Well, unfortunately, that's the stuff that contains all the toxins that may increase your cancer risk. Try not to eat it and consider these tips for limiting your exposure:

image of an arrowLimit. The most important thing you can do-whether you're grilling or not-is limit red meats and processed meats that contain nitrates. Choose chicken or fish instead.

image of an arrowMarinate your meat. Research has shown that a marinade can reduce the formation of carcinogens by more than 90 %.

image of an arrowExperiment with vegetables and fruits. Cancer-causing chemicals only arise from grilling animal tissue. Blackened bits on fruits and vegetables are harmless.

image of an arrowScale back meat portions. Consider kabobs. It's a great way to add fruits and vegetables while cutting back on meat.

image of an arrowLimit flare-ups that char food by selecting leaner meats or grilling on aluminum foil. If you use foil, punch small holes to allow the fat to drain.

image of an arrowFlip meat frequently to prevent it from getting too black.

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2008