Is Eating Grilled Food Healthy?
We all enjoy a good BBQ with friends where we gather around the grill. When you cook food over a grill – or open flames – it has a unique flavor. However, many of us are hesitating before firing up the grill. There are a lot of opinions circulating on the internet as to whether eating grilled food is healthy or not.
Let’s dive in and give you the low-down!
What the concerns are over grilling food
The main concern with grilled food comes from what happens when fat from cooking meat goes onto the hot coals.
The resulting smoke contains PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). These chemicals are normally found in gasoline, crude oil, and coal, but they are also created when you burn tobacco, wood, gas, oil, coal, and..garbage! The PAHs can bind together to form particles in the air that you don’t want to breathe in, as PAHs are known carcinogens.
The other problem with grilled meat is what happens when the outside of the meat is charred. Although we enjoy the flavor of charred meat, the exterior (or if you eat your meat well-done, the inside too) is full of HCA (heterocyclic animes.) HCAs are also carcinogens, which is why one study found that people who prefer their beef ‘very well done’ have a risk of getting pancreatic cancer that is 60 percent higher than those who eat less cooked meat.
What you can do about it?
There is good news, however, if you still want to eat grilled meat.
Eat smaller quantities
As with most foods, if you eat these foods in small quantities, it isn’t that bad for you. Science doesn’t know yet how much of these foods you’d have to eat to get cancer.
Don’t char your meat
If you avoid charring your meat – or if you cut off the charred bits of your meat – you will be able to cut way down on the HCAs.
Avoid flare-ups on the grill
HCAs and PAHs come into play when fat from the meat drips onto the grill, so another way to reduce these chemicals is to avoid flare-ups on the grill.
How do you do this? You can:
- Pop your meat in the microwave for 30 to 90 seconds so that it won’t drip as much. (Though this goes against the very idea of grilling meat in the first place)
- Put tin foil underneath the meat to catch the drippings, or
- Grill over indirect heat (you can use a two-zone system on your charcoal grill)
Use a stovetop grill
Another way to grill meat more healthily is to use a stovetop grill – such as a cast-iron griddle – which requires no wood or charcoal. You can still achieve seared grid-like lines on your meat and achieve deliciously tender meat without the smoke and chemicals of an outdoor grill.
To see what we mean by a stovetop grill, click here to see a model that resists high heats (an essential factor for successful indoor grilling.)
Marinate your meat beforehand
This solution is truly magical – if you marinate your meat, you are adding moisture, preventing charring. Marinades also make it less likely for the particles in the PAH-filled smoke to stick to the surface of your meat.
The science behind this cites two studies in Hawaii where marinating meat in a garlic-turmeric marinade or a Hawaiian-style teriyaki marinade reduced the number of harmful chemicals created by the smoke.
Here’s the best tip of all: add fresh rosemary to your meat before you grill it. One study done in 2010 found that if you add rosemary to meat before grilling it, you can cut down the HCAs by up to 90 percent! Rosemary contains many antioxidants, which researchers believe are what contributed to these results.
Other helpful ingredients that can block these chemicals are onion, honey, tart cherries, and garlic.
Suggested dishes for your grill
Whether you grill indoors or outside, here are some grill-friendly suggestions that implement the above tips for you to enjoy a tasty yet healthier grill:
- Grilled lamb with rosemary and garlic
- Grilled pork chops with a honey and cherry glaze
- Grilled chicken with garlic, onions, and rosemary
One last thing to remember
Before you start to get overly concerned about these chemicals, it’s worth keeping in mind that they are just one part of the overall nutritional puzzle. There’s a vast difference between grilling lean cuts of chicken and fat-filled pork ribs, so moderation is key.
However, you may want to avoid eating very well-done steaks and learn the pleasures of medium-rare!