Darkness is good for helping fireworks pop on the Fourth of July, but it may be harmful when it comes to the color of your barbecued meat.
Grilled meat, as much of a Fourth of July tradition as fireworks and the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” can possess potentially cancer-causing chemicals if cooked at high heat for a long amount of time, according to Heather Rasmussen, PhD, a dietitian at Rush University Medical Center’s Nutrition and Wellness Center. It creates an unhealthy compound called heterocyclic amine (HCA), which is more prevalent in parts of meat that are charred.
Rasmussen suggests grilling more vegetables, which don’t have the same chemical reaction to high heat that meat does. For protein, tofu is an excellent alternative to meat.
But people don’t need to avoid grilled meat altogether.
Everything in moderation,” Rasmussen said. “Just be smart. You may not be able to avoid barbecued meat on the Fourth of July, but try not to grill every day. Grilling in moderation is fine.”
If there’s a piece of charred meat on your plate, cutting off the deeply blackened parts will help. Though some HCAs will remain, at least you’re not eating the pieces that contain the highest concentration of them.
And avoid eating excessive amounts of meat, particularly red and processed meats, even if it doesn’t come from a grill. Studies show that too much red meat — which refers to beef, pork and lamb — may cause colon cancer.
“In general, people tend to eat too much meat,” Rasmussen said. “The American Institute of Cancer Research suggests people eat no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. A serving size is 3 ounces per serving, or the size of a deck of cards. If people stick to that amount, it will help them avoid any harmful effects.”