How this dietitian enjoys summertime grilling

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Everyone loves to fire up the grill for a July 4th cookout. How you grill and what you cook on the grill can be tasty, healthy and can even reduce your risk of developing some cancers.  You may have heard that certain foods cooked on the grill at high temperatures aren’t good for you but you may ignore the risk because you love to grill. Well, no need to stop grilling, “just make some smart grill moves in what you cook and how you cook,” says Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and head of nutrition programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

First, let’s look at what is at the root of the health concern. The culprits include two chemicals produced when grilling meat. The first are chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when meat is cooked at very high temperatures causing some the building blocks of protein (amino acids) to break down into HCAs. The other dangerous compound produced during grilling occurs when the fat from the meat hits the hot coals or gas grill lava rocks and causes flare-ups and smoke. The smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these compounds have the potential to alter DNA leading to increase cancer risk. The studies showing the changes are done in animals, and while the human research is only an association, not a cause, but why not make smart moves with grilling to reduce your risk?

What should you grill? The biggest culprit in forming HCAs comes from muscle meat, especially fatty cuts: steaks, burgers, chicken pieces with the skin, and ribs. So, consider leaner cuts of meat (flank steak, skinless chicken or turkey filets, and pork tenderloin) and try some new alternatives, like organic chicken sausages instead of the fatty brats. Other healthy grilling choices include fish, burgers made from soy or ground turkey or chicken breast, and kebabs made with smaller pieces of meat and plenty of vegetables.

The next strategy to reduce your risk is to change your grilling techniques.  All of the following will reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.

  • Pre-cook meat in the oven and finish it on the grill; that translates to less grilling time but still gives the meat the grilled flavor
  • Don’t eat the charred or blackened parts of grilled meat; cut those off and toss
  • Marinate meat before grilling; marinades seem to provide a barrier between the flames and the meat
  • Use lean cuts of meat and trim all fat
  • Keep the drips to a minimum by using tongs instead of a fork that pierces the meat and leads to more grill flare ups
  • Flip foods more often
  • Grill at lower heat to avoid flare-ups which lead to charring and smoke formation

Now for some good news; grilling vegetables doesn’t increase your risk of cancer; vegetables don’t contain a lot of protein and it is the protein in meat that interacts with the high heat and smoke to produce HCAs and PAHs. So, lighten up on the meat and load up the grill with veggies. Thick slices of veggies work well on the grill or toss smaller cuts of veggies in a grill basket and lightly baste with olive oil and fresh or dried herbs.  Try this Summer Grilled Balsamic Veggie recipe from AICR (and check out all of their healthy recipes) at

And, don’t forget that grilled fruit makes for a sweet ending to a meal. Grill slices of apple, pineapple, pears, or peaches and top with vanilla Greek yogurt and sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For more information, take the AICR quiz on grilling and cancer risk.


Why this dietitian takes a multi-vitamin mineral supplement

SnacksDietitians are quick to tell you that you can get all of the nutrients you need from your diet. True enough, but just how many of us eat healthfully every day? A multi-vitamin mineral supplement “when taken regularly can be an effective way to increase nutrient intakes to meet recommended levels of nutrients,” according to the position stand of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Who can benefit from taking a supplement? Look at this list:

  • Calorie restrictors
  • Food group eliminators
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • Strict vegetarians or vegans
  • Those with chronic health issues

I fall into a couple of those categories. Research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that a large percentage of older adults fall short in getting adequate amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and the minerals calcium and magnesium. As we age we are a greater risk for bone loss and vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are all important for healthy bones.

For me, I take the supplement to add to my diet, not as a substitute. I still eat well but a multi helps ensure that I get needed nutrients every day. I don’t take a handful of pills of individual nutrients, but just a well-formulated multi for women 50+. An older woman recently wrote to me and asked if she should take a prenatal vitamin; the answer was a resounding “no.” Why? Well, for starters she wasn’t pregnant, but she was post-menopausal  so she needs less iron, not more, after menopause. My multi has no iron; prenatal vitamins have 28 milligrams or 150% of the recommended amount.

Another reason I like a formulation designed for older women is that it contains more vitamin D than most multi-vitamin supplements. Aging skin makes less vitamin D and we are less efficient at converting vitamin D from sunlight in the liver and kidneys as we age. There are not many food sources with naturally occurring vitamin D, so I am sure to get an adequate intake from my daily pill. And, while we always think natural is better, a synthetic form of vitamin B-12 is easier to digest and absorb as we age.

A recent survey from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade group representing the supplement industry and ingredient suppliers, found that those of us over the age of 63 use the following supplements:

  • 69% take a multivitamin
  • 48% take vitamin D
  • 40% take calcium
  • 30% take vitamin C
  • 27% take omega-3-fatty acids (“fish oil”)

When asked why they take supplements, the majority say for overall health and wellness. While a multi is not a substitute for good health, it may be a surrogate for a healthy lifestyle. Supplement users tend to eat well, exercise, and not smoke.

When choosing a vitamin-mineral supplement, look for a reputable company. You get what you pay for with supplements. I also suggest looking for verification that the supplement contains what is says it contains and doesn’t contain any tainted substances. I look for the USP-verified symbol to make sure I am getting a quality supplement.

Lastly, remember that supplementing a bad diet still results in a bad diet. And, more isn’t better when it comes to supplements. Always follow the dosing instructions.

For more information on CRN survey and information on supplements in general, visit

You can also find information on supplements and healthy aging at Nutrition 411 at

Disclosures: I am on the editorial board for Nutrition 411 as an unpaid editorial board member to provide peer-review of content. I am not a consultant to any supplement group and have no ties to the industry.