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Barbequing Done Right!

Given the popularity of grills in American homes, there is a fair chunk of the population who get some serious enjoyment out of grilling to perfection on the BBQ.  But in recent years, science has rained on that parade by warning us of the health risks that can accompany charring.

Does that mean making a stack of BBQ for you and your family is mutually exclusive with eating healthy? Or, are there things that can be done to minimize the not-so-good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to grilling?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a moment to review some of the barbeque associated chemicals that won’t do your health any favors. Starting with heterocyclic amines (HAC’s), this group of chemicals also called “meat-related mutagens.” Now that doesn’t sound good. Joining them are polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a group of chemicals associated with high blood pressure, heart attack, and cancer.

Firstly, let’s be clear on some of the risks associated with BBQing your next meal:

  1. Fumes from the BBQ could expose you to cancer-causing polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The more traditional BBQ chef may be disappointed to hear that the risk seems to be higher with charcoal briquettes than gas-powered BBQing.
  2. Smoke and fat dripping onto the heat source can increase the amount of PAHs found in barbequed meat.
  3. Both PAHs and another unhealthy group of chemicals, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are found in the much-loved “char” that is so characteristic of barbequed foods. Further, even without char, the darker the barbequed meat, the more HCAs.

Want to barbeque the healthy way? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Putting black pepper or other spices on meat destined for the BBQ can reduce the formation of toxic chemicals. That tasty rub you got at Fathers/Mothers day? Bring it on down!
  2. Not interested in rubs. Try a marinade. Maybe some lime juice with garlic? A little tomato juice and parsley? The important thing is that acid marinades can reduce the amount of HCAs formed when barbequing your choice cut of protein.
  3. Try to keep some distance between the protein and the charcoal or gas. PAHs levels are higher in foods cooked closer to the heat source.
  4. Try not to breathe in smoke from the grill. A strategically placed fan can help divert the smoke, toxic chemicals and all, from your breathing range.
  5. Keep your barbeque clean! Charred remnants of your last grilled meal can make today’s cooking event even smokier than usual. And smoke needs to be avoided if healthy cooking is your aim.
  6. Catch the drippings before your heat source dose. Make a drip tray, or even tinfoil, your friend.
  7. Want less drippings? Use cuts of meat that have less fat. Now you’ve got two birds with one stone – less saturated fat and less PAHs and HCAs.
  8. Consider pre-cooking your meat before throwing it on the barbeque. By reducing the cooking time needed on the grill, there is less chance of charring the outside, burning drippings and creating plumes of toxic smoke.

But be safe, not sorry!

Just remember, make sure you cook your meat long enough for it to be safe to eat. You don’t want to trade one risky food (overly charred meat) for another (undercooked meat).

Bottom line: Barbequing has much to offer – a chance to step out into the open, impress friends and family with your “perfectly done” steak while filling the air with mouthwatering aromas. No reason to spoil all the good things about cooking on your fancy new grill with chemicals that may play havoc with your health. So, incorporate healthy barbequing techniques into your cooking repertoire, and allow yourself and your health to enjoy the fruits of your (outdoor cooking) labor!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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