Experts warn of cancer-causing chemicals when grilling meats

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People may love the char, but new research shows that char on meat at those summer barbecues could actually increase cancer risks.

“Yeah, we grill out about four times a week,” said Sean Smuk, who lives near Naples.

And like many of his neighbors, he likes to fire up the grill in the hot summer months.

“We love it, because it tastes better this way. It gets everybody outside off their iPads and TV,” Smuk said.

After reviewing studies from all over the world, the World Health Organization and National Cancer Institute say grilling could increase the odds of getting cancer later on.

However, other studies haven’t established a definitive link between natural chemicals in cooked meats and cancer in humans.

“When it comes to grilling, it’s going to be very hard to avoid the carcinogens,” said James Frasier, a chef instructor at FGCU.

He says the combination of what people eat and the heat used to cook it are the real culprits.

“Any animal protein that contains cretins and sugars is going to create the carcinogens,” Frasier said.

And that combination leads to a chemical reaction in the meat, which registered dietitian Enza Locascio says can change a person’s body at the cellular level.

“Studies have shown these chemicals to be mutagenic, which means they can cause changes to your DNA,” Locascio said.

“I’ve heard stories about charred meats helping with cancer and carcinogens. It’s definitely a factor,” added Smuk.

But there are also ways to reduce risk.

“Turn your meat often and cut off charred portions from your meat,” Locascio said.

Another thing you can do is keep meat off direct heat, light the flames on one side of the grill, then move the meat to the other side to prevent direct exposure to the flame.

“Using thinner cuts of chicken, thinner cuts of meats. Making sure that you aren’t burning the burgers and creating a lot of flareup,” added Frasier.

It’s something Smuk says he’ll definitely think about the next time he grills.

“Yeah, it shocks us to know there are so many health benefits, but also downfalls to grilling meat,” Smuk said.

Cooking experts also say marinades can reduce the effects the flames can have on meat. And if served with fruits and vegetables, the antioxidants in plant-based foods can help counteract the cancer-causing chemicals.

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