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 http://www.aicr.org/health-e-recipes/2016/summer-grilled-balsamic-veggies.html

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.

http://www.aicr.org/enews/2015/05-may/enews-truth-about-grilling-and-cancer.html

 

Cancer Survivors and Lifestyle Changes

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I just reached survivor status this month by being cancer-free for 5 years. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are 11 million cancer survivors and by the year 2020 there will be 20 million of us.

Every cancer survivor celebrates beating cancer but also worries about it coming back. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can stack the odds in your favor. Try these 5 things to help fight your cancer from coming back.

1) Be active every day. Exercise can help control your weight and excess weight increases levels of estrogen and insulin–two hormones that fuel cancer cells. Exercise also fights other chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.

2) Eat and least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. It is easier than it sounds because a small glass of juice, blueberries on your breakfast cereals, a veggie-packed salad at lunch, and an apple gives you the 5 servings needed for good health. One on my favorite quick dinner meals is a saute of veggies (green and red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, and onions) with olive oil and tossed with spaghetti noodles and sprinkled with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Yummy and a 2 to 3 serving of vegetables meal.

3) Decrease or eliminate processed meats–no more bologna (I grew up on bologna and fried bologna sandwiches were a staple in my family), bacon, sausage or processed luncheon meats.

4) Get more the of the sunshine vitamin–vitamin D. This nutrient is showing promise as a cancer fighting vitamin. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level to get a baseline before you start supplementing with vitamin D pills. But eat vitamin-D rich foods every day such as fatty fish and dairy foods fortified with vitamin D. Yogurt is a popular dairy food for its calcium and protein but did you know that not all yogurt has vitamin D? Turn the carton over and look for vitamin D and don’t be surprised if you find zero vitamin D in your yogurt. The exception? Yoplait yogurt has 20% of the daily value of vitamin D in a serving so kudos to Yoplait. And, Yoplait also is a big supporter of breast cancer research–their save the lids campaign benefits Susan G. Koman for the Cure and so far they raised over $1.6 million from this year’s campaign. So dig your spoon into that!