Health risks when grilling and prevention tips -

Grilling: how to avoid health risks

For many people, there is nothing more pleasant in the summer than having a barbecue with family or friends. Unfortunately, there are also health risks lurking when barbecuing. An expert explains how to enjoy healthy grilled meats.

For many, summer is also barbecue time. But there are also health risks associated with barbecuing, especially when the meat is not handled properly. Sandra Holasek, nutritionist at the Medical University (Med Uni) Graz, explains in a recent press release the dangers of grilling and gives advice on how to avoid them.

Special care when cooking animals

"Grilling is a very original form of preparation and is relevant to the cultural and social sciences. This tradition of cooking and eating together, which dates back to the Stone Age, gives us the opportunity to get together in a relaxed atmosphere", explains Holasek, who heads the “Nutrition and Metabolism” research unit at the Otto Loewi Research Center.

"The barbecue gives us the opportunity to create varied and vegetable meals with different salads, grilled vegetables and potatoes and to experiment with other methods of preparation", explains the expert.

"In particular with regard to animal content, i.e. fish and meat, greater attention is needed to ensure correct preparation in order to avoid the formation of dangerous substances."


The formation of carcinogens is one of the most well-known sources of danger when grilling. Two substances are important here: heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

AHAs are formed when meat is grilled too long and/or too hot, and PAHs are formed by direct contact with open flames or smoke gases. When fat, gravy or marinade drips onto the embers, smoke is produced which condenses on the food to be grilled and is then consumed.

Deglazing, for example with beer, should also be avoided as PAHs can also be produced during the process. AHAs and PAHs can cause changes in genetic material as a result of certain processes in the body. These mutations can lead, among other things, to so-called adenomas, precursors of colon cancer.

Two particularly critical meat groups

In this context, two groups of meats are particularly critical: red meats (beef, pork, veal, mutton, lamb and goat) and charcuterie (sausage, ham, bacon, etc.). This cured meat typically contains nitrite curing salt, which is converted to nitrosamines when heated, which can cause stomach and esophageal cancer.

Lean meat (eg poultry) is much less dangerous in this regard. If, despite the greatest care, something burns during cooking, these parts should not be eaten, but cut off.

Beware of aluminum

Grill pans can prevent marinades from dripping onto the coals, but if they come into contact with salt or acids (eg lemon juice or an acid marinade), aluminum can dissolve and migrate into the food to grill.

The same goes for the so-called "grill hack" with the grilled chicken on a beer can. The lacquer from the can and the aluminum itself can be dissolved by the high temperatures and deposit on and in the meat.

Note these tips

By observing these tips, the formation of carcinogens can be stopped:

Foods to be grilled should not directly touch the flame. A well-heated charcoal is always preferable to an open fire. Paper or other materials should not be used for heating, as PAHs can also occur here. Use a grill pan and grill lean meat or low-fat cuts to prevent fat from dripping onto the charcoal. Salted meat should always be avoided on the grill. Alternatively, many dishes can also be steamed. Lean poultry meat or fish are particularly good as a "healthy" substitute. Soy products and grilled vegetables are also good alternatives.

With these tips, you can reduce or eliminate exposure to AHAs and PAHs without sacrificing the fun and flavorful grilling experience.

Clean the grill regularly

In addition to careful handling of the food to be grilled, the grill itself must of course also be treated with care. The important thing here is the regular removal of grease and food residues that stick to the grate. These can char and then transfer unwanted substances to the grilled food. (ad)

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This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.

Important note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.