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Summertime Sizzle--8 Healthy Tips for Grilling Food

by Tressa Rieser, Primal Health Coach

Healthy grilling

Summertime Sizzle—8 Healthy Tips for Grilling Food

I’ve often heard said, “Florida has four seasons—warm, warmer, very warm, and unbearably hot!” While there are many things I love about living in Florida, the two I love best are the beach and its climate. So while grilling in Florida is year-round for most of us, I think it’s safe to say that more people grill during the summer (there might be one exception—tailgating during football season).

Grilling offers many pleasures and is one of the many joys of summer, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to grill.

No One Has Friends Over To “Microwave”

No way would I tell some one not to grill—it makes food taste SO good! From the smell of the savory aroma to the backyard fun, grilling is enjoyable and packs many benefits including quality time with friends and family, outdoor exposure, home cooked food, and minimal cleanup.

So what’s the problem? Grilling produces two chemicals known to increase our risk of breast, colon, prostate, pancreatic, and stomach cancer—heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCAs are formed when the amino acids, sugars, and creatine in the meat adversely react when exposed to high temperatures. PAHs are found in the smoke of the flame and deposit on the meat while grilling.

According to Alfred Neugut, MD, PhD of Columbia University Medical Center and the Mailman School of Public Health New York, NY, “HCAs and PAHs become capable of damaging DNA only after they are metabolized by specific enzymes in the body—a process referred to as bio-activation. Studies have found that the activity of these enzymes, which can vary from one individual to another, may be relevant to cancer risks associated with the exposure to these compounds.” In other words, people process HCAs and PAHs differently and thus, their potential risk for disease is different.

Keep Calm and Grill On!

Regardless of how you respond to HCAs and PAHs, there are several ways to grill safely in order to protect yourself from damage, that are also easy and tasty.

1. Consider your choice of meat Processed meats, i.e., hot dogs and sausages, contain potentially carcinogenic agents. Grill high-quality whole-food meats like grass-fed beef or lamb, wild-caught fish, pastured pork, and free-range chicken.

2. Spice it up According to one study, rolling meat in spices like rosemary and turmeric before cooking can cut HCA production by more than 40%.

3. Marinate first Studies show that marinating meat prior to grilling reduces the levels of carcinogenic compounds as much as 99%. Thick and sugary marinades burn more easily than lighter, thinner ones. Below, I’ve shared The Perfect Vinaigrette recipe that can be used for both a marinade and salad dressing.

4. Go lean I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend this when using high-quality/sourced meats. The exception is when grilling in order to cut down on the drippings and therefore the PAHs. You can also place foil under the meat and poke a few holes in it to reduce drippings, smoke, and flare-ups. Another technique is to use cedar planks for your salmon—it’s delicious!

5. Hone your grilling technique

  • Increase the distance from the heat source by raising the grilling surface or moving charcoal to the sides of the grill in order to lower the amount of heat and char on the meat.

  • Cut meat into small portions so that it will cook faster and have less grilling time—think kabobs!

  • Flip meat frequently, about every minute to further reduce charring and burning.

  • After each use, clean the grill thoroughly to get rid of charred food and debris that’s stuck to the surface.

6. Don’t overcook Well-done meat is not only tough and dry, but it also produces more HCAs and PAHs. Cook until meat reaches appropriate internal temperatures for food safety, but no longer.

7. Add vegetables and fruit to the grill Plants do not form HCAs that can cause harm. Having large portions of fruit and vegies makes for a healthy well-balanced plate.

8. Chuck the burnt meat Many may find charred meat to be tasty, but it is toxic! Cut off the burnt or charred parts.


Keeping things in perspective, grilling isn’t likely to kill you, but there are health risks when grilling meat that can be minimized with care and attention, particularly by avoiding high cooking temperatures and long cooking durations. Grilling makes everything taste better—it doesn’t matter what food you grill, it’s going to taste amazing! And there are other legitimate benefits to grilling like quality social time, exposure to the outdoors, cooking at home, and easy cleanup. So, fire up that grill and share the love—you can’t buy happiness but…you can grill and that’s kind of the same thing!

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to respond to this blog with your comments, or contact me with questions or feedback. Until next time, be well and live awesome!



All of the information in this writing is for educational and informational purposes only. We are passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle and aim to share that passion with you through coaching, blogs, readings, chats, social media, etc. Primary sources to ensure accurate and current content, including studies, scientific references, and statistics, are found below:

Alfred I. Neugut, MD, PhD (Aug 24, 2018) WebMD LLC, Medscape, Grilling & Health Risks: The Steaks Are High

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