Breadcrumbs Navigation

Home > News & Publications > News and Communications > News > Turn Down Grill Heat on Cancer Risk

Throw a slice of pineapple on the grill instead of a chicken leg? A portobello mushroom instead of a burger?

Meat lovers may call foul, but as grilling season heats up, Duke University Medical Center researchers say that's the best way to lower your cancer risk especially as recent findings add fuel to the link between grilled meat and cancer.

"It's a concern," says Denise Snyder, a nutrition researcher at the Duke School of Nursing, about a study presented recently at a cancer meeting by Minnesota researchers. It found people who ate well-done meat were 60 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

"It doesn't mean if you eat well-done steak that you will get cancer, but it is more evidence to suggest a relationship exists between eating grilled meats and certain cancers."

Red meat isn't the only culprit. Snyder says any meat made of muscle protein -- including chicken, pork and fish -- can generate a cancer-causing reaction when it meets a hot grill.

"When you apply high temperature to any grilled meat, it breaks down the muscle proteins and creates a cancer-causing substance which can damage our DNA and genetic material," she explains. "That can jump-start the cancer development process."

Snyder doesn't expect people to avoid grilling meats at picnics and in their backyard. In fact, she says, "you can't go through life thinking everything you eat will cause cancer. But you can minimize your risk."

Here's how:

  • If you love the grilled flavor, throw more fruits and vegetables like peaches, zucchini and bell peppers on the grill, since those are your safest choices.
  • Shorten grill time by using a thermometer, microwaving your food first, and choosing thinner, leaner cuts of meat. Or make kabobs which require less cooking.
  • Flip food frequently.
  • Line your grill with foil poked with holes to allow the fat to drip down. That, and avoiding smoke flare-ups, which also contain cancer-causing substances that coat the meat, will lessen your exposure.
  • Trim fat from meats before cooking
  • Marinating meats first has been shown to reduce the formation of cancer-causing substances.
  • Use the lowest temperature to cook your food thoroughly. Keep your grill rack as high as possible to keep far from the heat.

Finally, avoid processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages because grilled or not, they've been shown to increase cancer risk.