I love to empower and educate patients on what they can do to claim and maintain their health. With summer around the corner, many people may be thinking about adding barbecued or grilled food to their diet.  Did you know that cooking meat products at very high temperatures can generate exposure to compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs)? In laboratory studies these compounds have been shown to cause changes in DNA and may increase the risk for cancer.

Compared to other methods of cooking, barbecuing produces the highest levels of these compounds because it exposes meats to the highest temperatures. Dietary studies suggest the consumption of meat products cooked at high temperatures may pose a risk factor for stomach, breast, prostate, colorectal, and other cancers.  While there are certainly more variables contributing to this observation, you can still take preventative action by optimizing your grilling practices to reduce your exposure to PAHs and HCAs.


1. Clean your grill: Drippings, sauces and meat residues left on a grill will continue to accumulate and concentrate PAHs and HCAs. So get that scraper out and clean off any grease, grim or residue.

2. Frequent flipping: This helps to prevent the meat from reaching very high temperatures, and therefore reduces formation of these toxic compounds.

3. Avoid eating charred, burnt or overcooked meat: Trim off any charred edges before serving and cook at lower temperatures to avoid over cooking. With poultry especially, you should use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. While you want to avoid overcooking, you need to ensure safe cooking practices and avoid undercooked poultry products as well.

4. Trim the excess fat off to avoid fat dripping onto the grill: Sizzling and smoking fat/food means HCAs and PAHs are forming. You can trim the fat, use leaner cuts of meat or gently grill veggies, to reduce your exposure.

5. Add spices to ground meats or use marinades or rubs for whole meats. Compared to barbeque sauce, marinades tend to drip less (see #1 and 4). Adding spices or ingredients rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants may help to both neutralize the formation of these harmful compounds and also mitigate some of the potential harmful effects. Consider olive oil, garlic, ginger, onion, cherries, fruit pulp and other seasonings and spices etc.

6. Add fresh fruit and veggies to your plate: Diets rich in fruit and vegetables are associated with lower rates of cancer and a number of other chronic diseases. In the setting of barbequed food, vegetables offer antioxidants, detox support, fiber and nutrients to help neutralize some of the mutagenic effects of PAHs and HCAs. Celebrate the summer with the spectrum of colorful fruit and veggies (red, yellow, orange purple and green), fresh salads and lots of green leafy vegetables.

7. Everything in moderation: If you chose to incorporate barbequed food into your dietary practices, ensure it’s added in moderation and as a small part of your total and healthful diet. Nutrition should be individualized and optimized to a person’s medical conditions, medications, digestive health, health goals etc.

For more information on cancer support, cancer prevention or how to live your healthiest life, I invite you to come work with me at Tandem Clinic.  Call to schedule: (604) 670-0590 or click to book.

In Health,

Dr. Jessica Moore, ND



1. Knekt P et al (1994). Intake of fried meat and risk of cancer: a follow-up study in Finland. Int J Cancer. 59:756-760.

2. Shin IS et al (2002) Inhibition of heterocyclic aromatic amine formation in fried ground beef patties by garlic and selected garlic-related sulfur compounds. J Food Prot.65(11):1766-1770.

3. Persson E et al (2003) Influence of antioxidants in virgin olive oil on the formation of heterocyclic amines in fried beefburgers. Food Chem Toxicol. 41(11):1587-1597

4. Ikkanen et al (1996). Effect of commercial marinades on the mutagenic activity, sensory quality and amount of heterocyclic amines in chicken grilled under different conditions. Food Chem Toxicol. 34(8):725-730.

5. Schor J (2010) Marinades reduce heterocyclic amines from primitive food preparation techniques. Journal of Natural Medicine. Vol (2):7


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