Healthy Grilling – You can have fun and be healthy, too

Healthy GrillingGrilling is more than just a way to cook in the summertime.  It’s also a social event and a bonding experience. While cookouts are great for dusting off your “Kiss the Cook” apron and chatting with your neighbors, it’s important to keep your health in mind as well.

Eating red meat has long been considered a potential risk factor in developing certain types of cancer. Not to rain on your picnic and cookout, but there has been a large body of research conducted in the past few years that suggests grilling these meats is even worse for your health than if you baked or roasted them. The American Institute for Cancer Research recently conducted a meta-analysis on the causes of colorectal cancer and determined that consuming grilled or processed meats is a  “convincing” cause of the disease.


When meat is grilled using high levels of heat, the muscle proteins are broken down, causing the formation of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).  The longer the meat is cooked, the more HCAs form. The Department of Health and Human Services named HCAs on their list of carcinogens in 2005 due to their capabilities to damage DNA.  In fact, a recent study found that people who regularly consumed well-done meat were 60 percent more likely to get cancer.

It is also suggested to avoid the consumption of processed meats such as sausage, hot dogs, salami, bacon, ham, and pepperoni. This is because many of these foods contain the meat preservatives nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to both colon and bladder cancers in humans.

Still want to have your steak and eat it too?

Here are some helpful ways to cook meat in a healthier manner:

  • Use a microwave to preheat the meat to reduce the time it spends on the grill.
  • Cover the surface of the grill with punctured aluminum foil and avoiding charring the meat or exposing it to flame.
  • Prepare smaller or thinner pieces, as it takes less time for them to cook.
  • Use meat with lower fat content, as more fat means more flames.
  • Flip the meat frequently to avoid constant exposure  to high temperatures.
  • Keep your grill rack as high as possible so that the meat is farther away from the flames.
  • Marinate meat for at least 10 minutes to help to protect it from burning.

About Dr. Dr. Bassel El-Rayes

Dr. Bassel El-Rayes, associate professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and an expert in treating gastrointestinal cancers, notes that it is important to think of grilling other things besides meat. Salmon and other fish are healthy options, for example. Also, Dr. El-Rayes reminds people to include plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes for a healthy cookout. Adding such things as watermelon, strawberries, squash, peppers and tomatoes not only makes the menu more inviting but also keeps it healthy, Dr. El-Rayes says.

To learn more, visit:


Tags: , , ,

  • Kathy

    Would love to know what you think of electric grills – such as the George Foreman

    • Dr. Bassel El-Rayes

      To date, there has been little, if any, scientific research that focuses on comparing electric grilling versus other kinds of grilling, such as propane or charcoal grilling.

  • Chip Wilmot

    These recommendations kind of defeat the purpose of grilling.

    How about just eating grilled meat (done with good grilling technique — good sear, char, etc) infrequently?

    • Dr. Bassel El-Rayes

      As with many foods that may prove dangerous for us if eaten on a regular basis, meat cooked on a grill is fine in moderation. For example, having a grilled hamburger or steak a few times a year is OK; eating grilled meat every day is not. Also, keep in mind that regularly eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day and lowering your consumption of red meat are protective against cancer and may be the most important dietary habit to cultivate. In addition, regular exercise and maintaining your ideal body weight are extremely important. Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day is also important. Most of all, don’t smoke! Smoking is implicated not only in lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer, but in at least two dozen more cancers.