Dr. Fuhrman shares safe summer grilling tips

VALLEY — Warm weather and outdoor living usually means firing up the outdoor grill. But before you throw that burger or steak on the barbecue, be aware research has shown that turning up the heat on meat can cause potentially cancer-causing substances to form.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed in hamburger, steak, chicken, and fish as a reaction between certain amino acids and glucose when these foods grilled or even cooked at high temperatures. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times increase HCA production. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed from flames and smoke; when meat juices drip and flame hits meat. N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) are formed in the stomach from nitrate/nitrite preservatives which are found in processed meats. Apart from these cooking-related compounds, meats contain several harmful elements including animal protein, arachidonic acid and heme iron. 

To minimize these harms, limit your portions. I recommend a high-nutrient (Nutritarian) diet, which includes animal products only occasionally and not as a main dish. For example, use small amounts of meat mixed into a bean burger with mushrooms and onions. The phytates in the beans sop up the hydroxyl radicals and excess iron from the meat, reducing its toxicity. Also, anti-cancer foods like onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs.

Processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages should be completely avoided. NOCs are potent carcinogens. There is convincing evidence that processed meats (and red meats) are a cause of colorectal cancers, and high intake of processed meat is also associated with heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Fortunately, you don’t have to throw away your grill. Marinated vegetables, mushrooms, corn, and bean burgers are safe and delicious choices. For those who choose to grill meat, do it with caution and only do it occasionally.

Here are five ways to enjoy foods on the grill while reducing your exposure to harmful substances:   

1 — Vegetables are especially delicious when grilled. All kinds of vegetables can be grilled and with the warm weather there will be a wonderful variety of fresh vegetables available. So make veggies your main dish. Fill a grilling basket with your favorite sliced vegetables, or make vegetable skewers. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow summer squash all combine well, but get creative with your top picks or seasonal harvests. Toss with a little water, balsamic vinegar, and some fresh or dried herbs such as basil, oregano or rosemary for a robust and nutritious dish.

2 — Try blending spices with walnuts and a bit of your favorite vinegar and brush it on the veggies frequently while on the grill. When grilling any starchy vegetables soak or marinate them first in a water-vinegar mix. Adding some water content minimizes the production of acrylamide, which is a cooking-related carcinogen formed when starches are cooked at high temperatures. Avoid eating the blackened portions of grilled vegetables.

3 — Make your own nutritious veggie burgers. Store-bought veggie burgers often have too much added salt and concentrated soy protein. Try the recipe for Better Burgers in my new book, “The End of Heart Disease.”

4 — Portobello mushrooms are a delicious and satisfying alternative to burgers. Try marinating in your favorite vinegar with dried herbs. Then serve on a whole grain pita with sliced tomato, raw onion and a pesto dressing made from basil, avocado and pine nuts.

5 — Grill corn on the cob in the husk or make party corncobs by husking, spraying lightly with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil and water, and sprinkling with your favorite herbs. Place on the grill for 6-10 minutes, rotating frequently to minimize browning.

Dr. Fuhrman is a #1 New York Times best-selling author and a board certified family physician specializing in lifestyle and nutritional medicine. The Eat To Live Cookbook offers over 200 unique disease-fighting delicious recipes and his newest book, The End of Heart Disease, offers a detailed plan to prevent and reverse heart disease using a nutrient-dense, plant-rich eating style. Visit his informative website at DrFuhrman.com. Submit your questions and comments about this column directly to [email protected].