Red Meat:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork

Processed Meat:

Meat that has been preserved by:

  • Smoking
  • Curing
  • Salting
  • Adding chemical preservatives


  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Hot Dogs
  • Ham
  • Salami
  • Pepperoni
Icon: Diet News Break

Grill Smart This Season

Every year around this time, as Americans everywhere begin to fire up the grill, AICR is inundated with questions about potential cancer risks associated with grilling. As the leading research institute in the field of diet, nutrition and cancer, AICR has unique insight in this subject. From the science of HCAs to the magic of marinades, AICR marks the start of this summer pastime by issuing its own advice when it comes to cooking out.

AICR’s Message: It’s what you grill that really matters

veggie kabobs on grill

Evidence is overwhelming that diets high in red meat – especially processed meats like hot dogs – contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the expert report, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week. Even further, AICR recommends avoiding processed meat due to a startlingly strong correlation between processed meat and colorectal cancer.

While there does exist limited, but suggestive evidence that compounds produced in meat through the grilling process (HCAs) factor in human cancer, AICR has determined that top priority should be what you choose to cook, not how you cook it. The risks associated with grilling should then become a secondary concern.

Science of Grilling

The combination of meat with intense heat is what prompts scientists to caution against traditional grilling. The substances in the muscle proteins of red meat, poultry and seafood react under high heat to form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs can damage the DNA of our genes and contribute to the process of cancer development. Consumption of HCAs is most clearly linked to cancers of the colon and stomach.

Reduce Your Grilling Risks


Heterocyclic amines form when amino acids and creatine (a chemical found in muscle) react at high cooking temperatures. Scientists have identified 17 different HCAs that maypose human risk.

There are several ways to reduce your risk of cancer while still enjoying summer grilling.

Grilling vegetables and fruits produces no HCAs–plant-based foods are actually associated with lower cancer risk.

If cooking meat:

  • Limit portion sizes and cut smaller pieces to shorten cook time.
  • Leaner cuts prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which can deposit carcinogens on the meat.
  • Use a marinade–studies have shown that marinating your meat before grilling can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent.
  • Flip meat frequently to reduce carcinogens that may arise
  • Reduce the heat–cooking at slightly lower temperatures is enough to substantially reduce HCA formation .

New American Plate Picnic

This season, take a page from our New American Plate program and make vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains the centerpieces of your meal. By filling 2/3 or more of your plate with plant foods and leaving 1/3 or less for your cooked meat, you’ll have a meal model that’s healthy and cancer preventive.

More Information:

AICR-Funded Research

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