Grilling is one of the most popular and delicious ways to celebrate the summer season—especially as we head into the 4th of July weekend. But as amazing as it is, BBQ and grilled food can actually harm your health, damaging your DNA and increasing your risk of cancer, diabetes, and other long-term diseases. Luckily, there are delicious ways to prevent the damage and risks to your body, and support your health.
Is grilling bad for your health?
The risks of barbecue lie in the ingredients and preparation, as well as how long the food is cooked. Temperature and length of time are key in protecting yourself from health risks in grilled foods. When red meat is overcooked, dangerous burn-induced compounds like Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. These harmful free radical compounds wreak havoc in your body and are linked to numerous health concerns.
HCAs develop when compounds in red meat like amino acids and sugars react with high temperatures, especially for a long period of time. Whether you are frying, baking, or grilling for your summer recipes and cookouts, beware of HCAs. They start to form at about 212 F, with the most dangerous and harmful HCAs forming in large quantities at around about 570 F. (Most grilled food is cooked between 375-500 F.)
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), another type of damaging grill-induced compound, are formed when meat is charred, blackened, or smoked from burning fat. The type of fuel used for heating, the distance from the heat source, and the fat content of the food, all play factors in PAH production.
Researchers note that these compounds, like many other harmful compounds, affect people differently—depending on how their bodies metabolize them. This means that some people, including those with diabetes or metabolic health issues, are at higher risk.
With this in mind, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from these dangerous compounds, while enjoying delicious food you love.
Tips for Healthy Safe Grilling & Summer Recipes
When it comes to grilling and your health, there are lots of healthy ways to protect yourself while still enjoying your favorite summer barbecue recipes. Here are tips for preparing summer recipes with your health in mind.
Choose Quality Meats
Processed red meats like hotdogs, sausage, and bacon usually contain added nitrates that are harmful to health, and produce more harmful compounds like HCAs and PAHs. Unprocessed meats including grass-fed beef, chicken, and fish, and organic options when possible, are safer and healthier. Leaner cuts can reduce smoking from burnt oil and lower the amounts of PAHs in the foods.
Timing is everything!
Cooking on low heat, and turning or flipping over many times can help you avoid charring or burning that can increase the formation of HCAs or PAHs. The longer you cook or grill on high heat, the more HCAs and PAHs are formed. Well-done meat increases the amount of HCAs and PAHs by three times compared to medium rare. (And of course, charred meat has the highest.)
Use A Meat Thermometer
A meat thermometer will help you know when meat reaches the right internal temperature for food safety, and prevent overcooking. In addition, cutting the meat into smaller pieces can reduce cooking time and prevent other grilling mistakes that can make you sick, like undercooked meat.
Clean The Grill!
While it may be obvious, cleaning the grill and scrubbing regularly ensures you start with a clean, fresh space for preparing your food, and reduces grease and fat from building up. Having grease left on the grill also increases the chance for fire flare ups, and can be a fire hazard. Whether you have a charcoal grill or gas grill, safety is always key, so make sure to check for leaks and any other fire and safety hazards before you fire up the grill.
Give Your Food (and Grill) Space
When placing your food on the grill, allow for space and avoid overloading with too much at once. This can help the heat be dispersed better and more evenly, and avoid contamination from raw or fatty foods. Keeping your grill far enough away your home or garage, at least 10 feet, can also help prevent fires and other BBQ risks.
How To Protect Your Health From Barbecue Health Risks
While there are risks to enjoying barbecue and grilled foods, there are proven ways to prevent these damaging compounds from harming your health. The secret is in the sauce (or the marinade). Specifically, natural herbs and nutrients that add not only super flavor to your summer recipes, but super antioxidant benefits as well. Antioxidants prevent the harmful compounds formed in barbecue from damaging your body, and provide the powerful support you need to protect your long-term health.
Here are some natural antioxidant ingredients to add to your summer recipes:
- Rosemary is a top herb for protecting meats during high heat cooking. Research shows it can reduce HCA formation by up to 90%. Other herbs including basil, sage and oregano are also shown to decrease HCA formation.
- Turmeric root is shown to reduce HCAs by up to 40%.
- Onion can reduce one primary type of HCAs by more than 90%.
- Garlic can also reduce HCA formation by up to 70%.
- Citrus, vinegar, red wine, beer, and other acid-based marinades significantly reduce HCA formation, in some cases by up to 99%.
Consider using these natural ingredients in your grill or marinade recipe to build defense against these barbecue risks. If you like to use store-bought sauces, avoid barbecue sauces with high sugar content, as these are shown to increase HCA formation by three times. If you need that sweet flavor, add it after the meat is cooked, or try making one yourself, with turmeric, garlic, rosemary, lemons, and cherries, for a naturally sweet and antioxidant-filled sauce.
The Best Antioxidant Supplements for Your Summer Barbecue
In addition to adding antioxidant herbs and spices to your meal, there are a number of proven supplements to support healthy defenses against PAHs and HCAs, and other damaging effects caused by barbecue and ill-cooked meat.
Padma Basic is a mega antioxidant supplement that helps protect you from damage that these burn-inducing compounds can cause. This clinically researched natural herbal formula stabilizes DNA, and is shown to neutralize these compounds, reducing oxidative stress throughout the body.*
A clinically-proven herbal supplement based on a classical Tibetan formula, shown in over 50 published studies to provide comprehensive support for cardiovascular, immune and other key areas of health.*
In addition, giving your body metabolic support can help balance blood sugar and defend against threats in your meals. ecoMetabolic is a powerhouse metabolic support supplement that contains antioxidant herbs and natural nutrients to help defend metabolic health and insulin function against the impacts of free radical compounds like PAHs and HCAs.*
With the right grilling methods, and supportive antioxidants, you can protect against the effects of grilled food, enjoy your favorite summer foods—have your steak, and eat it too!