A few simple changes in how people grill outdoors, such as avoiding too much beef or processed meats and not charring foods, can aid in cancer prevention, according to an expert.
"Two aspects of the traditional American cookout, what you grill and how you grill it, can potentially raise cancer risk," Alice Bender, a dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research, said in an institute news release. "Diets that feature big portions of red and processed meat have been shown to make colorectal cancer more likely. Evidence that grilling itself is a risk factor is less strong, but it only makes sense to take some easy cancer-protective precautions," she added.
One way to help prevent cancer is to avoid overcooking foods on the grill, Bender said. Charring, she explained, results in the formation of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Bender offered four other ways to grill more safely:
Add color (but not red meat). By cutting back on red meat and grilling a wider variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, people will increase their intake of phytochemicals. These naturally occurring compounds found in plants offer protection against cancer, Bender said. She suggested grilling vegetables like asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and corn on the cob, which can be grilled whole, in chunks or in a basket. When grilling fruits, she noted, brush them with olive oil so they won't stick. Bender added that fruits should be grilled a day or two before they are completely ripe so they retain their texture.