Summer just wouldn’t be summer without grilling. The delicious charred taste and tender juiciness that can’t come from anywhere else keeps us coming back for more. Gas or charcoal, there are some great health benefits to grilling and also some documented health concerns you should be aware of.
Health Benefits: Grilling helps excess fat drip off, reducing the overall fat content. This is important particularly when cooking higher fat meats (steak, sausage, burgers) which we tend to do when grilling. The high heat provides a shorter cooking time helping vegetables retain more vitamins and minerals. The heat also seals in moisture helping you avoid added fat and sauces.
Health Concerns: High temperature cooking over gas or charcoal can produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are documented carcinogens. These have caused cancer in animals and increase the risk of cancer in humans. Inflammatory substances called Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are also created which speed up oxidative damage to cells. This can lead to or make worse degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, and Alzheimer's. The smoke that comes off a grill, particularly from fat drippings, creates toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which can damage your lungs.
Protect Yourself: There are lots of ways to still enjoy grilling while minimizing your exposure to HCAs, AGEs, and PAHs. Coat your meat with a rub or marinade. This can significantly reduce the buildup of carcinogens. Be mindful of the salt content if you are watching your sodium intake. Precook your meats inside to limit the amount of exposure they have on the grill. Reduce the heat by cooking over an indirect flame; the higher the temperature the greater the formation of carcinogens and toxic substances. Finally grill vegetables, they do not develop HCAs or PAHs and their healthy antioxidant properties can help counterbalance your meat intake.