Grilling, meat especially, gets a bad rap because charring and smoking is known to produce DNA-damaging and cancer-causing substances like heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds contribute to inflammation in the body and cause oxidative stress.

That’s obviously no bueno.

But darn, grilling is so easy and so yummy and there are no pots and pans to clean up when you’re all done. There is also something primal and deeply satisfying about cooking over a flame.

I don’t think the answer is to give up grilling and gently steam all of our food from here on out. Grilling can definitely be healthy!

Here are my 5 Healthy Grilling Strategies to reduce the risk of oxidation and cancer causing substances in grilling:

  1. Use a cooking oil that can handle high heat. My top choice for this is refined avocado oil. Please avoid olive oil. It’s like the delicate flower of all the oils and it does not tolerate high heat. Not only is the nutritional value and olive-y goodness taste destroyed, but it gets oxidized and smokes from the heat. Again, no bueno. Also, skip the canola and soybean oil too (in any case, not just grilling). Check out this video post on Choosing Healthy Fats or my 101 of Healthy Fats vs. Unhealthy Fats article if you want to dig in more.
  2. Choose leaner cuts of meat/poultry and smaller pieces (like shrimp!). Dripping fat into the flames produces smoke and more PAHs. Red meat especially really should be more of a condiment in or complement to a meal than the main course anyway.
  3. Cook for shorter times and avoid prolonged cooking times at high grilling temps. Less charring and less contact time on the grill is better. Try to avoid meat coming in direct contact with the flames.
  4. Leverage the antioxidant power of herbs and spices. Use marinades with fresh rosemary, ginger root, garlic, and turmeric to help reduce the amounts of these compounds. Some studies show reduction from 45-75% of these harmful compounds when cooking in marinades with these herbal and spice allies.
  5. Add fruit and veggies! They bring their own antioxidant power to the party. Grilled pineapple, peaches, mango, bell peppers, asparagus, onions, mushrooms – you get the idea. Make it colorful and bring balance to the force. Like this dish below: chicken and steak kebobs with bell peppers, with a cucumber yogurt dipping sauce, grilled pineapple, steamed rice, and a simple side salad. 



Pubmed: Formation and inhibition of heterocyclic aromatic amines in fried ground beef patties
Pubmed: Inhibitory activity of Asian spices on heterocyclic amines formation in cooked beef patties
CTCA: The Dos and Don’ts of Barbecues