By Sarah Axtell, ND • June 30, 2018
While grilling with friends and family in the summertime can be healthy for your soul, it does come with some risks! Exposing food (notably meat) to high temperatures produces cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
HCAs have been found to be mutagenic, causing changes to DNA and thus increasing risk of cancer. They form when amino acids, sugar, and creatinine (found in muscle) react at high temperatures. Here is how to reduce the risk:
- Partially cook your meat or fish in the oven. While this is an additional step in the cooking process, it is worth it. This reduces the HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
- Eat like a pescetarian. Vegetables and fruits don’t form HCA’s when cooked. Portabella mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinegar and oil are delicious on the grill (see below). Fish does produce HCAs when cooked at high temperatures but to a lesser extent. And certain types of seafood, such as shrimp, scallops, oysters and lobsters, do not form the compounds.
- Marinate! Research has shown that marinating meat can partially block HCA formation. Marinades with antioxidant-rich rosemary in particular have been shown to reduce HCAs. And add pepper to your marinade. One study showed that mixing pepper with beef blocked the formation of HCAs. See below for my favorite marinades.
- Avoid charring your food. If meat is charred, it is carcinogenic. Never eat the black part.
- Keep it rare. Well-done meats contain up to 3.5 times the levels of HCAs as meats cooked to medium-rare according to one major study.
Turmeric Garlic Marinade
- 2 tsps ground turmeric
- 5 garlic gloves, minced
- 3 tsps Bragg’s liquid aminos or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil (best for high-heat)
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup water
In a medium sized bowl, combine the above ingredients. Add chicken, lamb, beef, fish or your favorite veggies. You can leave it up to 24 hours in the fridge if you want a deeper flavor or you can cook right away.
- 1/4 cup avocado oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. This is one of my favorites for portabella mushrooms.
Cilantro Lime Marinade
- 2 tbsp avocado oil
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 tbsp honey
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
- Sprinkle of salt
- Freshly ground pepper
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Add chicken or fish and marinate for at least 30 minutes (longer for deeper flavor).
Here are some more resources on grilling:
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.