Q. Does Grilling Cause Cancer?

By Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., May/June 2009

Does Grilling Cause Cancer?

A. There’s no evidence that grilling causes cancer. But cooking meat at the high temperatures you use to grill—as well as broil and fry—creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds linked with some cancers.

Animal and laboratory studies suggest that HCAs may damage DNA and spur the development of tumors in cells of the colon, breast, prostate and lymph system. At temperatures of 350°F and hotter, amino acids and creatine (a natural compound that helps supply energy to muscles and nerves) react to form HCAs. PAHs form when fat drips onto hot coals, creating smoke that settles on food; these compounds have been associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

But "within the big picture of cancer prevention, there are much greater risks than grilling," says Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., director of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the American Cancer Society. For example, "if you’re 30 pounds overweight, that puts you at much greater risk for developing a number of cancers [than does eating grilled meats]."

When you do grill, there are several things you can do to reduce HCAs and PAHs.

  • Grill fish. "Beef, pork and poultry tend to form more HCAs than seafood because of their higher amino acid content and longer grilling times," says Doyle.
  • Prefer meat or poultry? Trim fat to reduce drips.
  • Flavor meats with marinades and rubs. Research in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that marinating red meat in beer or wine for two hours significantly reduced HCAs. Scientists believe the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming. Similarly, a Kansas State University study found that rubbing rosemary, an herb known for its high level of antioxidants, onto meats before grilling cut HCA levels by up to 100 percent. Herbs including basil, mint, sage and oregano may have similar effects.
  • Pair grilled meats with vegetables, particularly cruciferous ones. In one study, men who ate about 2½ cups of Brussels sprouts every day for three weeks reduced their DNA damage significantly. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, contain sulforaphane, a compound that may help the body clear DNA-damaging compounds more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keep your grill. While some studies suggest that grilling produces compounds linked with cancer, the risks associated with eating grilled meats are relatively small when you look at the big picture.


Useful info, thanks for that


03/26/2012 - 11:33pm

Good article! Thanks for the information.


09/23/2012 - 6:44pm

Wow! So misleading!

People need to go to NIH website.

Grilling - yes, just grilling meat does in fact create 17 known cancer causing agents to form.

The people behind this article should be ashamed.


02/28/2013 - 4:47pm

actually, it's the polycarbonic chains that cause the cancer forming agents to build up on red meat. The action is through the colon and this is why we see an increased amount of rectal cancer in meat eaters, especially ones who grill their meat. Bottom line: stop eating all forms of meat, and switch to a healthy vegan diet and you will not only save the lives of millions of animals, but also will not get bad karma from killing compassion in your heart. T. Olalihan PhD.


06/20/2013 - 2:32pm

what doesn't give you cancer????????????????????????????


06/29/2013 - 7:41pm

I have never met an old vegan. Are there any?


07/17/2013 - 3:55pm

testing one two


08/02/2013 - 1:33pm

Very confusing but need to review cooking methods i feel .


09/01/2013 - 5:02pm

Maybe if you stuff " thousands of times the dosage " of almost anything into a rat, something is bound to go bad. Maybe.


03/19/2014 - 11:11am

Cooking anything denatures is and it loses its nutrients. We need more life giving foods. Eat your raw veggies people. Less cooked food period is ideal.


05/15/2014 - 9:17am

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