Grilling Foods: Understand Your Cancer Risk

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Yesterday, we examined the link between consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer risk. Well, the plot thickens…


Grilling animal products—both red and white meat—creates potent carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on food. In laboratory experiments, these substances have triggered the cancer process.

“We get asked about the risks of grilling every year about this time,” says registered dietitian Karen Collins, nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research. “There are risks associated with the grilling process, and it makes sense to take precautions to reduce those risks.”

But it’s important to “keep an eye on the big picture,” she says. “The evidence is now overwhelming that red meat—especially processed red meats like hot dogs—is a cause of colorectal cancer. So instead of seeing cookout season as incentive to eat more of these foods, look on it as an opportunity to try new things.”

Grilling vegetables and fruit produces no HCAs or PAHs, thus posing no potential cancer risks.

Turkey hot dogs and similar products haven’t been well studied. Scientists cannot yet determine if these foods affect cancer risk. The possibility cannot be dismissed, Collins says, because they may be processed in the same manner as beef hot dogs. Some aspect of processing, such as the addition of nitrates, may potentially be responsible for increased risk, so more research is needed.

Tune in tomorrow for seven Memorial Day cookout tips that will help reduce your cancer risk.

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