The delicious smoky taste and tender juiciness keeps us grilling all summer long. Gas or charcoal, there are some great health benefits to grilling, but also some documented health concerns to be aware of.
Health Benefits: Grilling helps excess fat drip off, which is particularly beneficial when cooking high fat meats such as steak, sausage, and burgers. The high heat provides a shorter cooking time helping vegetables to retain more vitamins and minerals. The heat also seals in moisture helping vegetables stay tender and decrease the use of added fat and sauces.
Health Concerns: High temperature cooking over gas or charcoal can produce Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) which are documented carcinogens. These can cause cancer in animal studies and could 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 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 animal protein intake.