It won’t kill you to grill. Grilling the safest, most delicious food (without the health risks).

Grilling can be a fun family activity, but it also has the potential to be dangerous. The dangers of grilling include both external and internal hazards. External hazards are the things that happen when you are grilling or preparing food on the grill. Visible things like burns and grease splatters can be avoided, but there are other dangers. Internal hazards are those that can happen while you are grilling, especially if you are not paying close attention.

Grilling remains one of the most popular cooking methods. But, there are a lot of things you need to know before you start grilling, including the potential impacts of chemicals on your food.

Everyone loves a good cheeseburger. But what about grilling? The American Heart Association (AHA) has a warning: don’t grill! This is the same organization that banned trans fats as recently as 2009, but in this case it’s not about heart disease, it’s about that pesky grilled food! The AHA says there is no proof that grilled food is healthier in any way, and it’s only natural for people to be alarmed by the fact that the AHA has regularly recommended against grilling.

Concerned about the link between grilling and cancer? Don’t be fooled by the fear mongers. Check out these health-conscious grilling ideas.


The aroma of a grill. The sound of the flame hissing. A backyard BBQ is a lot of fun.

Grilling is one of summer’s greatest pleasures.

Grilling meat, on the other hand, has its drawbacks. Here’s how to use your grill to prepare healthy, tasty meals with minimal health risks.

Let’s get started with that grill.

In support of the grill

It’s a universal truth: food tastes better when it’s grilled.

It makes no difference what you put on there. It has a wonderful aroma and flavor.

Burgers? Steak? Seafood? Tofu? Veggies? Lettuce?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes (At some point, try grilled radicchio.)

The grill, on the other hand, does more than merely make food appetizing. It also has some genuine health benefits.

For example, unlike sautéing in a skillet, grilling does not require much oil. Moreover, fat seeps out during the cooking process.

(This isn’t to suggest that dietary fat isn’t beneficial.) In fact, a healthy dietary fat balance is essential for good health. It’s just that too much fat, like too much carbs or protein, is something to avoid.)

Furthermore, if you’re grilling, you’re most likely cooking for yourself.

The company of family and friends, the wonderful outdoors, and the simple, minimal cleanup – all of these benefits will make you less tempted to go out to dine or order takeout.

In the long run, calorie-dense foods, overeating, social isolation, and a lack of outdoor exposure harm human health more than the occasional ingestion of HCAs or PAHs (more on that later).

So, remember to put things in perspective. Give your grill (as well as your family, friends, and sunny backyard) some attention.

Isn’t it true, though, that grilling causes cancer?

Okay, now that we’ve given our grill a big hug (was that just me? ), let’s take a look at why grilling has recently received so much criticism.

Meat that has been grilled produces a few of compounds that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. I know, it sounds a little scary. But let’s speak about it a little more…

Heterocyclic amines are a type of heterocyclic amine.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when meat is overdone or charbroiled: heat reacts with the creatine, amino acids, and carbohydrates in the flesh.

(It’s worth noting that this is the same mechanism as the Maillard reaction, which browns meat and gives it its distinctive flavor.)

HCAs have the ability to harm and alter DNA. As a result, HCAs are classified as “reasonably predicted to be a human carcinogen” by the Department of Health and Human Services. This isn’t good.

HCAs are regularly linked to the development of cancer in animals, at least in high doses. (The phrase “extremely large dose” is crucial.) Similarly, human studies indicates that consuming a significant amount of HCAs is linked to an increased risk of cancer.

More than 17 distinct HCAs have been discovered as having the potential to be harmful to people.

HCA development is influenced by four factors:

  1. Food category
  2. How it’s prepared
  3. Temperature
  4. How long does it take to cook?

The most crucial of these four factors is temperature.

While HCAs begin to form at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), the truly dangerous kinds begin to form in substantial quantities at 572 degrees Fahrenheit (300 C). Most people grill their meals at temperatures between 375 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while others will go as high as 650 degrees Fahrenheit to sear a steak, for example.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a type of polycyclic aromatic

When meat is charred or blackened, or when fat from the meat drops onto the hot grill surface, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) develop. This causes PAHs to develop in the smoke, which then seep into the meat.

Over 100 distinct chemicals are generated when organic stuff (e.g., oil, gas, coal, food, etc.) is incompletely burned at temperatures above 392 degrees F. (200 C).

Seven PAHs have been recognized as potential human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.

PAH production is influenced by the following factors:

  • Cooking temperature
  • How long does food take to cook?
  • The type of fuel that is utilized to heat the house
  • The distance between you and the heat source
  • The food’s fat content

HCAs and PAHs are produced in proportion to how hot and long a meat is cooked.

Cooking with direct heat, such as frying and grilling, yields more than cooking with indirect heat, such as stewing, steaming, or poaching.

HCAs and PAHs, interestingly, may only harm DNA after being digested by certain enzymes, a process known as bioactivation. We’ll go through this in further detail later.

Furthermore, different persons have varying degrees of enzyme activity, which may influence how their systems handle HCAs and PAHs — and consequently their illness risk.

How to make grilling more nutritious

Regardless of how you react to HCAs and PAHs, there are some general strategies for reducing their development and protecting yourself from harm. These happen to be simple and delicious.

Make use of herbs and spices.

Herbs and spices enhance the flavor of meals. They also aid in the reduction of HCA and PAH levels.

The volatile oils and other substances that give herbs and spices their flavor (and superpowers like antioxidant activity) can help avoid the production of these dangerous molecules.

As an example…

Rosemary is the herb that has been studied the most. In rare circumstances, it can reduce HCA development by up to 90%. Additionally, rosemary has a remarkable ability to kill the most virulent strain of E. coli, O157:H7. It simultaneously lowers the risk of cancer and food poisoning!

Other herbs in the mint family (of which rosemary is a member) all inhibit the synthesis of HCA. Basil, thyme, sage, and oregano are examples.

Turmeric is an additional beneficial spice. Turmeric, a common spice in South and East Asian cuisines (it’s what gives curry its yellow color), can reduce HCA development by up to 40%.

Humble onion powder has also been demonstrated to lower one of the most common forms of HCAs (PhlP) by up to 94%.

When fresh garlic is used in marinades, it can reduce HCA development by up to 70%.

Garlic close up

Prepare your meat by marinating it.

Vinegar, lemon or lime juice, wine, yogurt, and other acid-based marinades can significantly minimize HCA development.

A teriyaki marinade reduced HCA levels by 44-67 percent in one study, but a honey BBQ sauce marinade boosted HCA production by 1.9-2.9 times! This was most likely owing to the BBQ sauce’s high sugar level and poor phenolic and antioxidant content.

(An added bonus: an acid-based marinade is likely to be lower in sugar and calories than BBQ sauce.) If you’re going to use BBQ sauce, do it at the end of the cooking process. It’ll be less prone to burn and char this way.)

Beer marinades are very effective, especially those made with dark beer.

In one study, marinating pork in dark beer before grilling lowered PAH levels by 53%, but a light Pilsner marinade reduced PAH levels by only 13%.

According to other studies, marinades can reduce HCA levels by up to 99 percent. Even a light coating of olive oil on your meat will help keep HCA in check by preventing it from charring (but don’t go crazy, as fat dripping on the flame might raise PAH levels).

Don’t overcook the food.

Temperature and time affect HCAs and PAHs.

The more HCAs and PAHs produced, the higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time.

Overcooking your steak not only turns it into shoe leather, but it also produces additional HCAs and PAHs. Meat that is well-done has three and a half times the amount of HCAs as meat that is medium-rare.

HCAs and PAHs are found in the highest concentrations in blackened and charred meat. As a result, either prevent them from forming in the first place or chop off any darkened pieces as soon as they appear.

Heat exhaustion can be a concern in general. While it may appear that using lower-temperature, longer-cooking barbecue methods is preferable, the meat is cooked for such a long time that it produces extremely high amounts of PAHs and HCAs. (Keep in mind that it’s the temperature and the time, not just one or the other.)

Cook until the beef reaches the proper internal temperature for food safety, but not more than that.

Choose your meat carefully.

Meats that have been highly processed have a considerably greater relation to cancer than meats that have been less processed.

Hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham, and deli meats are regarded to be far more hazardous than whole-food meats like beef, poultry, swine, and fish because they include additional nitrates. Even after accounting for the HCAs and PAHs produced by grilling whole-food meats, this remains true.

As a result, begin with high-quality meat.

  • Use entire, less-processed cuts of meat like steaks, chicken thighs, ribs, and so on most of the time. Fresh fish and seafood also cook wonderfully on the grill.
  • Make your own burgers with ground beef, lamb, hog, bison, chicken, or turkey if you prefer them.
  • If you enjoy sausages, try to find fresh, traditionally produced varieties.

Also, slimmer cuts are better since fattier meats drip more lipids into the grill, creating more PAH production.

Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Your pals are fruits and vegetables. They can also help counteract any potential HCA / PAH damage when served with grilled foods.

For starters, fruits and vegetables (particularly colorful ones) are high in health-promoting chemical components, just like herbs and spices. Foods that suppress the mutagenic activity of HCAs in particular include:

  • cherries
  • plums that have been dried
  • apples
  • blueberries
  • grapes (red)
  • kiwi
  • watermelon
  • spinach
  • parsley
  • black and green teas
  • red wine

To us, this seems like a great summer grilling fare. For dessert, how about a mixed green salad with iced green tea and fruit?

Some of these foods can also be used in marinades. For instance, crush cherries with lime juice, olive oil, and your favorite spices, then marinade the meat before cooking.

Second, fruits and vegetables aid in the removal of potential poisons from the body by the liver. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and so on) appear to be especially beneficial.

HCA mutagenesis action can also be neutralized by probiotics found in fermented dairy meals (such as a yogurt dip).

Surprisingly, beer yeast appears to have some neutralizing properties. Even if you don’t use a beer marinade, drinking a beer with your grilled meat can greatly reduce the HCAs’ carcinogenic activity.

It’s not necessary to tell me twice.

Plan your strategy while you’re cooking.

These methods aid in the reduction of HCAs and PAHs formation:

  • Reduce the amount of time your meat spends cooking by cutting it into smaller pieces. This reduces the chance of charring and burning, as well as the amount of time the meat is exposed to high heat.
  • To reduce charring and burning, flip the meat regularly.
  • Cook the beef over medium-high heat. Longer cooking times and greater temperatures can also be harmful to your health, so take it easy.
  • To prevent drips and flare-ups, cover the grill with foil.

What should I do next?

  • Prepare meals at home. Go for it if grilling allows you to do more cooking at home. Grilled meat can be part of a well-balanced dinner. Grilling in the summer is a great way to spend time with family and friends. Meanwhile, consider what you’ll serve beside the grilled steak on your platter. A pile of chips and a mayo-drenched potato salad? Or how about a fresh salad with grilled vegetables on a skewer? A healthy dosage of common sense is required.
  • Keep the dangers in context. HCAs and PAHs contribute just a little amount to your cancer risk. Sedentary behavior, extra body weight, and a diet consisting in highly processed foods all increase the risk of heart disease. You’ll probably make it if you eat some slow-cooked, pit-roasted ribs every now and again. (And most likely be happier in general.) Don’t be terrified of what you’re eating.)
  • Use marinades and seasonings that are grill-friendly. Reduce your risk by utilizing the power of herbs and spices (and make more flavorful food). Instead of sweet sauces, marinate your meat in acidic marinades.
  • Consume high-quality cuisine. Processed meat is not as healthy as quality meat. It also takes less time to cook on the grill. (Who wants to well-done an expensive grass-fed steak?) Wherever possible, go for slimmer cuts. Toss in a bunch of fruits and vegetables, and you’re good to go.
  • Grill with caution. Slow-cooked BBQ may taste nice, but it’s not healthy for your overall health. High temperatures might also be hazardous. Cook your meat to the safety criteria only, on medium to medium-high heat. To avoid flare-ups, flip the meat frequently. When possible, go for smaller, faster-cooking cuts. And, hey, if all you want on a hot summer day is a burger and a beer? Take it in and move on.

What should I read next?

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We strongly advise you to read this Personal Coaching Executive Summary if you want to look and feel your best this summer. You’ll learn if you’re a good fit for the program and get more information about the coaching process.


To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

Inhibitory effects of beer on heterocyclic amine-induced DNA adduct production in mouse liver and lungs. Arimoto-Kobayashi S, et al. 2005;53(3):812-815 in Agric Food Chem.

The effect of rosemary on the carcinogenic activity of heterocyclic amines isolated from popular Saudi Arabian foods. Awney HA, Sindi H. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition. 2010 Mar;61(2):192-203.

AJ Cross et al. An assessment of putative processes behind this connection in a large prospective cohort of meat eating and colon cancer risk. 70:2406-2414. Cancer Res. 2010;70:2406-2414.

Drinks, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flavonoids protect metabolically competent V79 cells from the genotoxicity of 2-acetylaminofluorene and 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP). Edenharder R, et al. 521(1-2):57-72. Mutat Res. 2002;521(1-2):57-72.

Effect of garlic, onion, and lemon juice oil marinades on the production of heterocyclic aromatic amines in fried beef patties, Gibis M. 2007;55(25):10240-10247 in J Agric Food Chem.

M. Iwasaki et al. Content of heterocyclic amines in meat and seafood cooked using Brazilian techniques. 2010 Feb 1; 23(1): 61–69 in J Food Compost Anal.

Influence of bacteria in dairy products and intestinal microflora on the genotoxic and carcinogenic consequences of heterocyclic aromatic amines, Knasmüller S, et al. 480-481:129-38. Mutat Res. 2001 Sep 1;480-481:129-38.

Effect of beer/red wine marinades on heterocyclic aromatic amine production in pan-fried beef, Melo A, et al. 2008;56(22):10625-10632 in J Agric Food Chem.

Lactobacillus casei DN 114001’s ability to bind or/and metabolize heterocyclic aromatic amines in vitro, Nowak A, Libudzisz Z. 2009;48(7):419-427 in Eur J Nutr.

H. Nozawa, K. Tazumi, K. Sato, and others Beer inhibits mutagenesis generated by heterocyclic amines and PhIP-induced abnormal crypt foci in the rat colon. 559(1-2):177-187. Mutat Res. 2004;559(1-2):177-187.

MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez de Gonzalez, MT Nuez J Food Sci., 2008, vol. 73, no. 5, pp. H63-71.

E. Persson et al. The effect of antioxidants in virgin olive oil on heterocyclic amine production in fried beefburgers. Food Chem Toxicol, 41(11), 1587-1597, 2003.

K. Puangsombat and colleagues Asian spices inhibit the production of heterocyclic amines in cooked beef patties. J Food Sci., vol. 76, no. 8, p. T174-80, Oct. 2011.

Occurrence of heterocyclic amines in cooked beef products, Puangsombat K, et al. Meat Science, March 2012, 90(3):739-46.

Inhibition of heterocyclic amine production in beef patties by ethanolic extracts of rosemary, Puangsombat K, Smith JS. 2010 Mar;75(2):T40-7. J Food Sci. 2010 Mar;75(2):T40-7.

L. Rounds et al. Apple and olive extracts, onion powder, and clove bud oil inhibited Escherichia coli O157:H7 and heterocyclic amines in heated ground beef patties in a concentration-dependent manner. 94(4):461-7 in Meat Science, August 2013.

L. Rounds et al. In cooked beef patties, plant extracts, spices, and essential oils inactivate E. coli O157:H7 and prevent the generation of potentially carcinogenic heterocyclic amines. 2012 Apr 11;60(14):3792-9. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Apr 11;60(14):3792-9.

IS Shin, et al. Garlic and garlic-related sulfur compounds inhibit the production of heterocyclic aromatic amines in fried ground beef patties. 2002;65(11):1766-1770 in J Food Prot.

R. Sinha, A. J. Cross, B. I. Graubard, and others. A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People on Meat Intake and Mortality 169(6):562-571. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(6):562-571.

Effect of marinades on the production of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks, Smith JS, et al. J Food Sci., 2008, vol. 73, no. 6, pp. T100-5.

Effect of Beer Marinades on the Formation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Charcoal-Grilled Pork, Viegas O, et al. 2014; 62 (12): 2638 in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Well-done Meat Intake, Heterocyclic Amine Exposure, and Cancer Risk. Zheng W, Lee S. Nutr Cancer, vol. 61, no. 4, 2009, pp. 437–446.

Grilling season! Is it here already? If so, that means summer is here and so is grilling season. Before you fire up the grill or start prepping to spend many hours over an open flame, let’s talk about the health risks associated with grilling.. Read more about is electric grilling healthy and let us know what you think.

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Grilled food is not the healthiest, but its still a healthy option.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”Why grilling is not healthy?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”

Grilling is not healthy because the cooking process can lead to carcinogens in food.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”Whats the healthiest way to grill?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”
The healthiest way to grill is by using a charcoal or gas grill.”}}]}

Frequently Asked Questions

Is grilled food the healthiest?

Grilled food is not the healthiest, but its still a healthy option.

Why grilling is not healthy?

Grilling is not healthy because the cooking process can lead to carcinogens in food.

Whats the healthiest way to grill?

The healthiest way to grill is by using a charcoal or gas grill.

Related Tags

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • is charcoal grilling bad for you
  • healthiest charcoal for grilling
  • gas vs charcoal grill carcinogens
  • closed flame gas grill
  • charcoal vs gas grill health issues

About Vaibhav Sharda

Vaibhav Sharda

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