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grilling is taking the heat

Summer is just around the corner. I can smell it, can’t you?

With summer comes more time outside, more playfulness, more colorful food and the abundance of grilled food out by the pool or simply in the backyard. While the thought of grilling sounds 100% harmless, cautionary tales abound [especially as of late] around grilling as your chosen method of cooking.

But before you ditch the grill altogether, consider taking a moderate approach with these nosh-able nuggets of protective wisdom.




High-temperature cooking like grilling, frying or charring can cause toxic byproducts. All of this leads to the production of compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs] and heterocyclic amines [HCAs], which studies [mostly in animals] have been shown to cause cancer.

The temperature of the grill, the duration of cooking, and the added antioxidants [such as acids, herbs and spices] are some factors that may affect the formation of these carcinogens.

In order to create a more protective grilled food and negate some of the more dangerous aspects, consider the following:

  • marinate whatever you are going to grill in acid + herb based marinade to reduce the number of HCAs + PAHs which are what are found to be most carcinogenic

  • marinades not only impart more flavor, but they can also be protective agains carcinogenic compounds because the acid component of the marinade reduces the formation of HCAs

  • spices also reduce the formation of HCAs making them a valuable component to the marinade – consider prioritizing rosemary + pepper + onion + garlic as they have been shown to impart the most protection

  • try to avoid grilling starchy vegetables which are more heavily linked to carcinogenic properties [particularly potatoes] due to the acrylamide produced during grilling

  • when grilling chicken, remove the skin as the skin can increase the browning of the chicken which contributes most to the toxic byproducts of the grilled chicken

  • pair grilled foods with cruciferous vegetables to upregulate the liver’s detoxification of potentially carcinogenic compounds produced by grilling

  • want more? click HERE for a compilation of more ideas compiled by the Institute of Functional Medicine




Steaming remains the form of cooking aimed at preserving the most nutrients in food followed by blanching, sautéing and baking. Some nutrients [such as vitamin C ] are particularly heat sensitive however making raw foods valuable as well.

When it comes to food, so much attention is paid to “what” we eat—whether it’s organic, gluten-free, whole, or processed—and rightfully so. However, the nutritional value of the foods we consume is also dependent upon cooking mechanism. Some nutrients [such as those found in legumes and grains] are more easily accessed through cooking while others remain preserved best in raw foods.

While this may feel complicated at first, the integration raw foods into your mixture of cooked foods diversifies your diet in such a way that you’ll remain engaged seasonally in the art of food preparation.

Grilling can absolutely remain a part of this art form but only if your “palette” and “brushes” are well prepared to withstand the heat!


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