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For Immediate Release: June 10, 2011
Contact: Mya Rae Nelson 202-328-7744

Cancer Experts Offer Four Tips for Healthy Grilling

grilling vegetablesWASHINGTON, DC –It's that time of year again. Hot weather sets picnic fever – and the nation's barbeque grills – ablaze; in fact, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, 4 out of 5 American households will fire up backyard grills this summer.

Today, in time for the first day of summer, experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) issued their yearly advice for healthy grilling. This year, that advice is bolstered by new evidence in a just-published report on the prevention of colorectal cancer.

As part of its groundbreaking Continuous Update Project, AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund released a report on May 23 that added recent research findings to its growing database on the role of diet, physical activity and weight in colorectal cancer risk, re-evaluated the combined evidence, and updated the judgments of the AICR/WCRF 2007 Expert Report.

One finding of the new report, that diets high in red and processed meat are a convincing cause of colorectal cancer, made international headlines. Today, AICR experts placed that finding in a useful context for devotees of the backyard barbeque.

"Two aspects of the traditional American cookout, what you grill and how you grill it, can have a role in raising risk for cancer," said AICR spokesperson Alice Bender, MS RD. "Big portions of red and processed meat are a well-known concern with respect to colorectal cancer. And although the evidence on the link between grilling itself and cancer risk is less strong, it only makes sense to take some easy cancer-protective precautions."

Bender noted that when any kind of meat, poultry or fish is cooked at high temperatures, especially when well-done or charred, cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form. These substances can theoretically damage DNA in ways that make cancer more likely.

"The good news is that there are four simple strategies you can use to make allowances, manage risks, and grill more safely," said Bender.

  1. Get the Red (Meat) Out, Add Other Colors
    • Focus first on grilling colorful vegetables and fruits, and cut back on the amount of red and processed meat on your cookout menu. Plant foods contain a variety of naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals, many of which provide their own anti-cancer protection.
    • Vegetables like asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and corn on the cob are favorites, because grilling brings out flavors that even the pickiest eaters enjoy. Cut into chunks for kabobs, cook in a grill basket, or toss with a small amount of olive oil and grill whole.
    • Cut fruit before putting it on the grill: apples, peaches and pears can be halved and bananas split lengthwise. Use fruit that is about a day or two away from being completely ripe so it retains its texture. If you brush fruit or the grill with a bit of oil, it won't stick, and remember to watch closely so it doesn't get overdone. Serve as is, with a sprinkle of cinnamon or a dollop of plain frozen yogurt.
  2. Marinate the Meat
    • If you choose to grill meat, mix it up: Try chicken or fish instead of sticking with burgers and hot dogs. Whatever meat you choose, start by mixing up a marinade with some of your favorite herbs along with vinegar or lemon juice. Keep the meat marinating in the fridge while you prepare the sides. Marinating meat has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs. Precisely why marinades are protective is still under investigation; some evidence points to the acids (vinegar and citrus) or the antioxidant content. Even just 30 minutes in the marinade can help.
  3. Partially Pre-cook
    • You can do this in the microwave, oven or stove to help reduce the amount of time the meat sits on the grill exposed to high heat. To ensure safe food handling, just be sure to put the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill immediately to complete cooking.
  4. Go Slow and Low
    • To reduce the amount of HCAs and PAHs that end up in, and on, the meat, slow down the cooking time with a low flame and keep burning and charring to a minimum. More tips: cut off any visible fat (to reduce flare-ups), cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side (to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them) and cut off any charred portions of the meat.

Here's a recipe for healthy and delicious Grilled Ginger Tuna you can enjoy this weekend, straight from the AICR Test Kitchen.

Grilled Ginger Tuna

Adapted from AICR's The New American Plate Cookbook, available in bookstores.

  • 1 lb. fresh tuna, boneless and skinless
  • 1 tsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 small jalapeno chile, seeded and minced or 1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Prepare barbecue grill to medium-high.

Cut tuna into 16 equally-sized cubes and place them in a bowl. Add canola oil and toss fish to coat. Add ginger, jalapeno or red pepper flakes, salt, pepper to taste and lime juice. Toss and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.

Divide tuna cubes evenly among 4 skewers. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes, turning frequently, using tongs. Fish is done when it is just cooked through and no longer pink on inside.

Serve immediately, with fruit or salsa.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 134 calories, 2 g. total fat (<1 g. saturated fat), 0 g. carbohydrate,
27 g. protein, 0 g. dietary fiber, 187 mg. sodium.

***

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org); and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (www.fmrc.fr).


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