With summer in full swing, it’s a great time to remind you about the cancer risks involved with cooking food on the grill in this must-read MSNBC piece. Previously, I’ve alerted you to the dangers of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), substances formed in the muscle proteins of fish, red meat and poultry when cooked in high heat that can damage DNA and begin the process of cancer development.

But you may not know, people who eat the most barbecued red meat — beef, lamb or pork — almost doubled their risk of colon polyps which can develop into colon cancer. And because these carcinogens may travel through the bloodstream, HCAs can be a factor in other cancers too.

Some safer ways to cook your meats:

  • Reduce the formation of HCAs by cooking meats at lower temperatures.
  • Flipping meats about every minute.
  • Marinating meats almost completely eliminates HCAs (although scientists are still investigating which ingredients do the most good).
  • Use a thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked thoroughly. The longer meat cooks, the better the chance HCAs will form.

These same cautions don’t apply to grilling fruits and vegetables, however. The natural phytochemicals contained in vegetables generate enzymes that convert HCAs to inactive substances that can be easily and safely eliminated by your body.

MSNBC July 8, 2005