The last big national grill day of the year was on Labour Day (Sept 2 in the United States).

It was time to break out the barbecue, and grilled is good for us, right?

It’s better than fried and tastes so much better than anything boiled or popped in the microwave.

Unfortunately though, there is a downside.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, when beef, pork, fish or poultry are cooked at high temperatures – such as pan frying or over an open flame – chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed.

Experiments in laboratories have found that these substances may increase one’s risk for cancer.

Besides high temperatures, these bad boys are especially prevalent when fat and juice from meat drip into the fire, causing flames and smoke, say researchers.

It’s the smoke that contains PAHs, which then stick to the surface of the meat.

We get exposed to PAHs from car exhaust and cigarette smoke as well.

Don’t throw out the grill just yet though. Here are some strategies that can significantly reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs:

● Don’t cook it to death

Meat, poultry or fish that remain at high temps for a long time are most susceptible to the build-up of these substances.

One method recommended is to cook the food in a microwave and finish it off on the hot grill, say some experts.

● Marinate!

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, soaking your meat, fish or poultry for at least 30 minutes before grilling in a marinade that contains acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar, can reduce the formation of HCAs by more than 90%.

● Grill over heat, not fire

That way, dripping grease doesn’t cause a flare-up, which releases dangerous chemicals back into the meat.

Electric grills work quite well without breaking the bank. These types of grills let you lower your grilling temperature and are set up to let fat run into a trap away from the food.

And hey, if it rains on your backyard party, you can still safely grill indoors, no worries.

● Grill more vegetables

Because they are low in protein, they do not form HCAs.

And remember that colourful vegetables contain natural chemicals that help reduce the risk for developing cancer.

● Grill smaller portions of meat

Kebabs, for example, that mix small amounts of meat with vegetables, cook faster, and therefore, spend less time cooking at high temps.

● Refrain from indulging in charred portions of meat

Yes, I know, some of us consider this the tastiest part.

Yet, experts say avoiding charred meat and poultry can reduce our exposure to HCAs and PAHs.

● Turn food frequently

This suggestion will go over like a lead balloon to steak aficionados.

Yet, researchers report that flipping meat often helps reduce the formation of HCAs. – The Monterey County Herald/Tribune News Service

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the US.