Summer is here, and it’s time to take advantage of the spectacularly healthy cooking technique most of us love—grilling. Grilling can be a healthy and fun way to cook if done correctly. It can save calories and make high-nutrient foods flavorful. The main drawback is the potential for the creation of carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These compounds are formed when foods, especially fatty foods such as meats, are placed in contact with intense heat and flame for a prolonged period of time.

Fortunately, studies have shown that HCA and PAH formation can be lessened and even prevented by taking a few simple measures. Follow these five tips for safe grilling and enjoy the flavor and health benefits of this favorite American cooking pastime.

  1. Pre-cook meats. The less contact with high heat and flames the food has, the less chance for the formation of carcinogens. Try pre-cooking meats to lessen cooking time on the grill.
  2. Use low-fat meats, and trim excess fat. Fat is what causes the formation of carcinogens, so eating lean is your best bet. Trim all visible fat off meats and poultry, or better yet, eat lean fish or plant protein.
  3. Use marinades. Marinating low-fat foods adds flavor and is a great way to prevent the formation of HCA and PAH. But don’t ruin the health aspect of grilling by dousing your food with a salt-laden prepackaged product. Make your own marinades or barbeque sauce and take your nutrition outdoors, healthfully. The best marinade choice consists of an extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), citrus, and herb concoction (think lemon juice, rosemary, basil or thyme, and EVOO). EVOO provides a healthful outer shield to foods. Herbs and citrus provide antioxidants that have been scientifically proven to reduce carcinogen formation.
  4. Avoid flare-ups. Flame flare-ups burn foods, increasing the formation of carcinogenic compounds.
  5. Don’t char foods. It is not wise to char foods, especially meats. The small areas of char are actually the most highly concentrated sources of HCA and PAH, so cut off the charred sections of your BBQ and toss them.

Healthier BBQ Sauce


1 cup low-sodium ketchup

1 cup no-salt-added tomato sauce

1⁄3 cup brown sugar, packed

2⁄3 cup apple cider vinegar

1⁄4 cup molasses

1⁄2 tsp paprika

1⁄2 tsp black pepper

1⁄4 tsp garlic powder

1⁄4 tsp onion powder

1⁄4 tsp chili powder

1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Refrigerate until use.

Nutrition per serving (2 tablespoons): 40 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 8 g added sugar, 0 g protein, 7 mg sodium.

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