It used to be that "safe grilling" meant not burning your fingers or singeing your eyebrows.
But recently, the National Cancer Institutes released information that should encourage all of us to change our cook-out habits.
Grilling meat, chicken or fish over a hot charcoal fire produces heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), which have produced cancer in laboratory mice and rats, as well as nonhuman primates. The research indicates the compounds are highly carcinogenic, says Dr. Richard Adamson of NCI.
The good news is that HAAs are formed only at 212 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, temperatures reached only by grilling, broiling and frying. Baking and roasting are safer, producing far fewer of the compounds. Stewing, boiling, poaching and microwaving create almost none.
This, of course, is not the first time grilling has been indicted for producing carcinogens. Dr. Barry Commoner announced 13 years ago that carcinogens are produced whenever hamburger comes in contact with hot metal. Recently, chicken and fish have been shown to present the same problems. And, fat from meat dripping on hot coals or stones produces benzoprene, also suspected of producing cancer in humans.
For many folks, grilling is one of summer's great pleasures. Rather than give it up, take a few precautions to reduce your cancer risks:
*Reduce grilling frequency.
*Reduce the portion size of meat, poultry and fish. Supplement by serving bigger salads, more corn on the cob, overflowing baskets of whole grain breads, and tempting bowls of luscious fruit; by increasing fiber, vitamin C and beta carotene, you also decrease cancer risks.
* Reduce grilling time. Serve beef rarer. Precook poultry. Microwave meat before grilling. (Remember, the juices formed in the microwave dish are precursors of HAAs. Pour them off.) Grill poultry and fish with skin on, then discard the skin.
*Reduce fat drippings. Choose lean cuts of meat. Trim excess fat. Use a drip pan to catch fat and prevent flare-ups. Keep a squirt bottle handy to douse flames.
*Reduce smoke contact. Cover the grill with hole-punched aluminum foil. Move meat if smoke becomes too heavy. Foil-wrap fish for easy cooking.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.