Is Grilling Bad for Your Health?

One of my favorite things about summer is the fact that literally any food tastes better to me when it’s grilled. Nutritionally, grilling is a great way to reduce fat and calories compared to other methods of cooking especially if you choose options such as chicken, fish, or lean cuts of red meat. These options are packed with protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12. The concern is that grilling any protein at high temperatures can release harmful chemicals into the air and our bodies.

Concerns with grilling:

  1. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke. The smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.
  2. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine or creatinine (substances found in muscle) react at high temperatures.

In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic, meaning they cause changes in DNA and have been associated with increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research issued a report in 2007 with dietary guidelines that recommended limiting the consumption of red and processed (including smoked) meats; however, no recommendations were provided for HCA and PAH levels in meat.

Luckily, there are ways to prepare meat safely without leaving the grill behind.

  • Clean it: immediately after you pull the food off is the best time to clean your grill. Avoid using a metal wire clearer to avoid adding this to your next grilled dish.
  • Color it: Try eating grilled meats with cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli). These superfoods contain fancy anti-inflammatory nutrients called isothiocyanates that change the way the body breaks down dangerous grilling chemicals, making the meat safer
  • Nuke it: Using a microwave oven to cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures can also substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking
  • Create a barrier: Put the food that you are cooking on foil to create a barrier
  • Flip often: Continuously turning meat over on a high heat source can substantially reduce HCA formation compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often
  • Trim the char: Removing charred portions of meat and refraining from using gravy made from meat drippings can also reduce HCA and PAH exposure
  • Go veggie: Opt for a veggie burger like the beyond meat. Here is a list of some great options for veggie burgers that won’t make you miss the meat (too much 😉
  • Let it marinade: Scientists have found marinades can make grilling safer by reducing the amount of carcinogenic compounds released in the air. The addition of vitamin E, garlic, rosemary, fruit pulp, and other seasonings and spices may lower HCA production. These ingredients may be incorporated through direct mixing, marinades, or rubs and often inhibit HCA formation by as much as 70%. Certain foods (e.g., yogurt, beer) lower mutagenic action of HCAs.Try a simple marinade that works for just about any menu item.
  • Trim the fat: When fat drips onto an open flame, flare-ups can spread nasty chemicals onto the meat. So remove the skin from chicken, and skip fatty meats like sausage and ribs. When food is burned, these chemicals stack up, so remove all charred or burned bits before eating, too

If you enjoyed this email, shoot me a message back and let me know!

In great health,

Xo Erin


Cross AJ, Sinha R. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 2004; 44(1):44–55. [PubMed Abstract]

Moonen H, Engels L, Kleinjans J, Kok T. The CYP1A2-164A–>C polymorphism (CYP1A2*1F) is associated with the risk for colorectal adenomas in humans. Cancer Letters 2005; 229(1):25–31. [PubMed Abstract]

IARC . World Cancer Report 2014. Lyon: International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization; 2014.

Published On: August 9, 2019Categories: Food

Share This Post, Choose Your Platform!

Notify of
Full name is not required for anonymity
Your email address will not be published
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments