Jun 9, 2013 9:00 AM by Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SUNDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- For many Americans, summer just wouldn't be the same without a backyard barbecue. However, the blackened meats and smoky flavor that come with grilling could put your health at risk, experts caution.
The good news, though, is that by planning ahead and making some smart choices, you can enjoy summer barbecues and reduce your exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
High-heat grilling can convert proteins found in red meat, pork, poultry and fish into heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemicals have been linked to breast, stomach, prostate and colon cancer.
"What happens is that the high temperature can change the shape of the protein structure in the meat so it becomes irritating in the body and is considered a carcinogenic chemical," Stacy Kennedy, a nutritionist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in an institute news release.
Another cancer-causing agent, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the smoke from the barbeque. PAHs form when fat and juices from meat cooking on the grill drip down onto the heat source.
"That's where the main cancer-causing compound occurs in grilling," Kennedy said. "So you want to reduce the exposure to that smoke."
For those who plan to fire up the grill this summer, Kennedy offered the following tips to reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents:
Despite the risks, Kennedy said, barbecue enthusiasts should keep things in perspective. "If you're grilling and following the proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling food is very low," she said. "Being overweight or obese, which are at epidemic levels in the U.S., are far greater risk factors for developing cancer than the consumption of grilled foods."
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about HCAs and cancer risk.