If your holiday weekend plans include a barbecue, the National Institutes of Health suggest turning down the heat and mixing up a marinade. These and a few other healthy tips can keep potentially cancerous chemicals off your picnic plates.
Grilling meat, poultry or fish at temperatures above 300 degrees causes compounds, called heterocyclic amines, to form. Broiling or panfrying these foods can also create the compounds, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists as probable carcinogens. High doses of heterocyclic amines have caused cancer in laboratory animals, and some studies have also linked them to human colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
The National Cancer Institute has called for more research.
In the meantime, it’s best to minimize exposure by cooking meat over low heat and flipping it often to avoid charring, the agency says. Marinades of oils, vinegar, mustard, citrus juice or even beer and wine can keep the meat moist and decrease chances of burning. A 2008 study from Kansas State University showed herbs rich in antioxidants, like rosemary, mint, basil, thyme and others, prevent many of the offending compounds from forming.
Another option is to precook meat in the oven or microwave and finish it on the grill. Cutting away charred portions is smart, too.
By the way, vegetarians, fear not – veggie and tofu burgers, or fruits and vegetables, don’t form heterocyclic amines when grilled at high temperatures.