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Summer Grilling and Your Health

Summer Grilling and Your Health | Kasia Kines - Functional Medicine

Dr. Kasia Kines, Nutritionist, CEO and founder of EBV Educational Institute

Virtual clinic serving the US and globally

[email protected]

Did you know that 80% of Americans own a grill? Now with a new deck, we have joined the grilling club. Being mostly plant-eaters, we never grill meat, and we definitely do not grill to the point of charring the foods. Because grilling is so popular and I am sure you also enjoy it as a healthier way of eating in summer, I am following on with some science on how it can be healthy or really unhealthy for you.

What Happens when you Grill Animal Protein?

When you cook muscle meat, such as beef, pork, fish, or poultry with high-temperature methods, e.g. pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame, you create heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),  both of which have been shown mutagenic in studies—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

How does that Happen?

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. While HCAs are not found in significant amounts in other foods, they are also found in other charred foods,  cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. More HCAs will be made with meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300ºF (as in grilling or pan frying), or cooked for a long time.

PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats. Cooking methods that expose meat to smoke or charring contribute to PAH formation.

The amount of HCAs and PAHs vary depending on the type of meat, cooking method, and “doneness” level (rare, medium, or well done). For example, well done, grilled, or barbecued chicken and steak all have high concentrations of HCAs.

HCAs and PAHs are first metabolized by specific enzymes in the body to then become capable of damaging the DNA.  According to studies, various levels of this enzymic activity may be relevant to the increased risk of cancer from these chemicals.

Are we Sure these Can Lead to Cancer?

Studies on animals have shown exposure to HCAs and PAHs to cause cancer (I feel for those animals), but the doses used were much higher than would be in human meat consumption. Still, we do have a number of epidemiologic studies (studies of large populations) with detailed questionnaires examining individual meat consumption and meat cooking methods to estimate HCA and PAH exposures. What we see from these studies is that high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats was associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

What to do?

Enjoy your grill, but be smart about how you grill.

Use gas grill if you can.

Do not overcook, blacken, or charr the meat.

Prevent the fat from the meat from dripping on the fire.


Selected References

Cross AJ, Sinha R. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 2004; 44(1):44–55. [PubMed Abstract]

Jägerstad M, Skog K. Genotoxicity of heat-processed foods. Mutation Research 2005; 574(1–2):156–172. [PubMed Abstract]

Sinha R, Rothman N, Mark SD, et al. Lower levels of urinary 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]-quinoxaline (MeIQx) in humans with higher CYP1A2 activity. Carcinogenesis 1995; 16(11):2859–2861. [PubMed Abstract]

Moonen H, Engels L, Kleinjans J, Kok T. The CYP1A2-164A–>C polymorphism (CYP1A2*1F) is associated with the risk for colorectal adenomas in humans. Cancer Letters 2005; 229(1):25–31. [PubMed Abstract]

Butler LM, Duguay Y, Millikan RC, et al. Joint effects between UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 1A7 genotype and dietary carcinogen exposure on risk of colon cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention 2005; 14(7):1626–1632. [PubMed Abstract]

Cross AJ, Ferrucci LM, Risch A, et al. A large prospective study of meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk: An investigation of potential mechanisms underlying this association. Cancer Research 2010; 70(6):2406–2414. [PubMed Abstract]

Anderson KE, Sinha R, Kulldorff M, et al. Meat intake and cooking techniques: Associations with pancreatic cancer. Mutation Research 2002; 506–507:225–231. [PubMed Abstract]

Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ, Cross AJ, Silverman DT, et al. Meat and meat-mutagen intake and pancreatic cancer risk in the NIH-AARP cohort. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention 2007; 16(12):2664–2675. [PubMed Abstract]

Cross AJ, Peters U, Kirsh VA, et al. A prospective study of meat and meat mutagens and prostate cancer risk. Cancer Research 2005; 65(24):11779–11784. [PubMed Abstract]

Sinha R, Park Y, Graubard BI, et al. Meat and meat-related compounds and risk of prostate cancer in a large prospective cohort study in the United States. American Journal of Epidemiology 2009; 170(9):1165–1177. [PubMed Abstract]  

Dr. Kasia Kines, Nutritionist, CEO and founder of EBV Educational Institute

Virtual clinic serving the US and globally

[email protected]




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