As Memorial Day approaches, grills around the country are being prepped for the official start of barbecue season. Whether you prefer traditional barbecue or something a little different, with so many tasty options, there’s something for everyone. So before you light up that grill, I wanted to offer some tips to ensure that your summer grilling is healthful and delicious!

Did you know that the AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) recommends we limit our red meat (beef, pork and lamb) intake to 18 oz. (cooked) or less per week? This is important information because of its link to cancer and heart disease.

The majority of research on red meat and cancer has focused on colorectal cancer, finding that grilling (and other methods of cooking, like pan-frying) is key in the cancer-disease link. This is because certain cooking methods produce carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons (PHCs.) Say what??? HCAs are formed when meats cooked at high temperatures mix with amino acids, sugars and creatine in the meat. PHCs form when fat and meat juice drip onto the grill fire and flame up.

So, do you need to avoid red meat? (I’ll give you my take now, a bit earlier than the conclusion for this blog!) No! Although I am an advocate of a plant-based diet, I do believe there’s room for red meat in an overall healthful dietary pattern. “Plant-based” does not mean zero red meat. And meat overall does have a lot of great nutrients including high quality protein.

How to “Healthy-Up” Your Grill This Summer

  • Select lean cuts of meat (e.g., sirloin steak, pork tenderloin) so there will be less fat to drip onto the grill flame.
  • Trim any visible fat. Again, less fat to drip onto the grill flame.
  • Flip meat frequently (even if the grill masters tell you not to). This appears to lessen the formation of carcinogens.
  • Marinate your meat for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. It’s best to use an oil/acid marinade; it will significantly lessen the amount of carcinogens formed. Even better,  add herbs (fresh or dried) to the marinade…not only will it up the flavor, it will up the antioxidant power! *See below for an easy recipe that you can mix & match.
  • Grill on medium or low heat – the lower the heat, the less carcinogens.
  • Place meat a little off center on the grill – this will generate less smoke if it’s not directly over the strongest part of the fire.
  • Pre-cook the meat in an oven first – this will mean less time on the grill and therefore less opportunity for carcinogens to form.
  • Eat plant-based foods (like veggie kabobs, fruits, etc.).  Plant-based foods do not form HCAs and PHCs when grilled.
  • Consume foods with antioxidants when eating your grilled meat!  This way you can still keep your plate 2/3 plant-based.

The above suggestions really do make a significant impact in lessening the amount of carcinogens consumed. So yes, you can have your meat and grill it too!

Basic Vinaigrette – Mix & Match


  • 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice or 3 Tbsp. flavored vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh herb (e.g., thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, etc.)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (you can omit if you want)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (sea salt, Kosher salt or table salt)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

**Side Note Tips For Cancer Patients**

  • Avoid raw and undercooked meats, but be careful not to over cook and char foods. Click here for the USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart.
  • Clean barbecue grates well. A good barbecue cleaning is generally recommended once a year, however, I would recommend a deep cleanse more often. 

A Deep Cleanse for Stuck-On Food:

1. Mix 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of baking soda in a garbage bag.

2. Seal the grates in the garbage bag with a rubber band.

3. Soak the grates overnight.

4. Remove the grates and rinse them off with water.

5. Rinse with cool water and pat dry.


  • McCulloch, M. RD, LD, LN. “The Risks and Benefits of Red Meat.” Today’s Dietitian, January, 2016.
  • AICR – Cancer Researchers Issue Yearly Warning on Safer Grilling
  • – A Deep Cleanse for Stuck-On Food

Wendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CSO, CDCES, CDN is a registered nutritionist specializing in oncology and weight management in Long Island and in the New York City area. Connect with Wendy on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and read more of her blog posts and download recipes at Food4HealthRD.comof her blog posts and download recipes at


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