Dietitian Alice Bender, MS, RD of the American Institute for Cancer Research says the most common question she hears during the summer is "How can I make my backyard grilling healthier?" Her response has to do with what you grill and how you grill it.
"Red and processed meat have been shown to make colorectal cancer more likely," she says. "Evidence that grilling itself is a risk factor is less strong, but it only makes sense to take some easy cancer-protective precautions."
In a release from the institute, Bender noted that when any kind of meat, poultry or fish is cooked at high temperatures, especially when well-done or charred, cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form. These substances can theoretically damage DNA in ways that make cancer more likely. She recommends five strategies to lessen the risk.
Try Veggie Kabobs
Plant foods are powerhouses of compounds called phytochemicals, some of which may protect against cancer. Veggies that take well to grilling include asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant. Try making veggie kabobs laced with a little olive oil. And don't forget the all-time favorite, corn-in-the-cob.
Grill Fruit for Dessert
Fruit that's not quite ripe works best. Cut apples, peaches, and pears in half and split bananas lengthwise. Again, brush on some olive oil. Don't overdo cooking time. Serve plain or garnished with a dollop of yogurt or a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Marinate Chicken and Fish
Skip the burgers and hotdogs and opt instead for heart healthy chicken and fish. Steep in a marinade of herbs with vinegar or lemon juice. Marinating has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs. A half hour is all you need.
Pre-cook in the Microwave
This cuts down on the amount of time the meat is exposed to high heat on the grill. To be safe, put the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill right away and finish cooking it.
Go "Slow and Low"
Use a low flame and keep burning and charring to a minimum. Also, trim off any visible fat to reduce flare-ups, cook food in the center of the grill, move coals to the side to keep fat and juices from dripping on them, and cut off any charred portions of the meat before serving.