Reduce Your Cancer Risk While Grilling

Armen Hareyan's picture

Summer is just around the corner and that means plenty of picnics, parties and barbeques. While the wonderful aroma of your favorite foods on the grill can make your mouth water, there are some caveats you should know before you dig in. All that grilling may be cooking up cancer-causing chemicals, warn experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Those chemicals have been linked to breast, stomach, prostate and colon cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

But Stephanie Meyers, RD, LDN, CNSD, a Dana-Farber nutritionist, says that doesn't mean you have to give up summer time treats like grilled burgers, steaks and ribs. "It's really about being careful and making wise choices."

There are two risk factors to keep in mind. First, research has shown that high-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemicals have been linked to a number of cancers.


Another cancer-causing agent, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the smoke. PAHs form when fat and juices from meat products drip on the heat source. As the smoke rises it can stick to the surface of the meat.

"The main cancer causing compound that occurs in grilling comes from the smoke," says Meyers. "So you want to reduce the exposure to that smoke."

What can you do to lower your risk? Here are some tips to make sure your summer grilling is safe.

Prep the meat