A Healthier Way to Grill Red Meat

Warmer weather is finally here and people are ready to grill! Let’s talk about adding some foods to help us thrive at these occasions, as well as some health precautions we can take while grilling red meat to prevent cancer causing agents. The chemical reaction (maillard) that occurs between amino acids and natural sugars in meat in the presence of heat results in the browning of foods as well as forming aromas and flavors–yum! The issue arises from the heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and polycyclic amines (PAHs). They develop when exposed to high heat and form in the black, charred outer portions of grilled meats when juices and fats come into contact with flames and smoke.

But never fear, this is not to scare you, but to educate you and build the best cookout plate out there this summer!

Being Mindful at a Cookout

  • Veggies first! The more colorful your plate the better. Think of prioritizing vegetables and salads on your plate first and make sure it takes up the most space.
  • Grilled veggies are super easy and delicious. Drizzle some olive oil onto asparagus, zucchini and onions, add some spices and grill till they are tender. The possibilities are endless with veggies!
  • Load up on the nutrient dense foods like lean proteins, veggies, and fruit.
  • Sprinkle in your favorites. Yes I mean the cheesy potatoes, pasta salad, and brownies! There is room for it on a healthy plate! We just want the ratio of whole foods to outweigh the higher calorie foods, but still enjoy our favorite treats.
  • Thinking about seconds? Just strike up a conversation, let your food digest, and in about 10-20 minutes you might change your mind. If not, just keep the portions moderate. Be mindful, not mindless in the midst of socializing.

Grilling with Carcinogens in Mind

  • Stick with leaner cuts, and cut off the excess fat, not only to lower saturated fats but also to decrease flare ups from the open flame.
  • Marinating before grilling helps reduce carcinogens. Even a quick 30 seconds helps, but keep it less than 5 hours.
  • Add a tablespoon or two of rosemary (and other spices) to your meat. It contains phytochemicals, which helps reduce HCAs!
  • Alcohol in the marinade also provides antioxidants, so bottoms up!
  • Partially cook the meat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes prior to grilling.
  • Cutting your meat into smaller pieces also reduces cooking time and reduces the chance of charring.
  • Carcinogens typically form at temperatures above 325°. Make sure meats cook to an internal temperature of…
    • 165° for poultry
    • 160° for ground red meats and pork
    • 145° for red meat steaks or chops
  • Avoid well done meats and trim away charred parts.

Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN, is a ProMedica dietitian. 


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