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Barbecuing This Weekend? Here’s 7 Ways to Reduce HCA Exposure


Research has shown that barbecued meats contain dangerous carcinogens known as HCAs, but here are a few simple ways to reduce the formation of HCAs and lessen their impact on health.

Scientists have discovered that meats cooked at high, dry heat (like barbecuing, pan-frying and broiling as opposed to stewing, roasting or baking at lower temperatures) form a carcinogen called heterocyclic amine (HCA). The more well done the meat, the more HCAs it’s likely to contain.

HCAs aren’t found in the charred stuff you can scrape off, but develop inside the meat, due to an interaction between free amino acids and creatine. (Note: The charred stuff that forms on meat burned by flames from your barbecue should be discarded or scraped off. That char contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are also considered carcinogens.)

Scientists from the National Cancer Institute agree that the  risk of getting cancer from HCAs is nowhere near the risk of, say, getting cancer from smoking. So there’s really no need to send your grill to a landfill. But there are some pretty simple things you can do to reduce the formation of HCAs  or their effect, so you can check it off your “worry” list.

And if you buy delicious, lean, grass-fed beef like I do, which has more cancer-fighting CLA than your average red meat, it just makes sense to make the healthiest burgers and steaks you can.

So here are a few simple tips which can reduce the formation of HCAs and lessen their impact on your body:

1. Add ground fruit, like tart cherries or blueberries to you ground beef.

Studies have shown adding about 10% ground, tart cherry significantly reduces the formation of HCAs. And you get a very juicy burger!

2. Marinate.

It seems that keeping the meat moist, be it beef, chicken or pork, also decreases the formation of HCAs. In fact, it turns out that even a quick dip in a marinade before grilling can reduce those HCAs by as much as 90%!

3. Skip the meat; grill “green.” Fruits and vegetables don’t contain creatine, the animal protein needed to make HCAs. Pineapple and peppers are great grilled. Also, eating fruits, vegetables and green salads along with barbecued meat lessens the cancer hazard.

4. Round out your meal with fruits and veggies.

Fruit salads and leafy greens topped with your favorite garden veggies not only reduce the effects of HCAs, but create a much healthier meal all the way around. And don’t be afraid to grill your veggies and fruits. They do not form HCAs.

5. Enhance with E.

Adding vitamin E to raw ground meat hinders HCAs, says J. Ian Gray, Ph.D., of Michigan State University. His tests showed that 120 milligrams of vitamin E powder mixed into or sprinkled on 3.5-ounce patties can reduce HCA formation as much as 72%. Just crack open a capsule of  vitamin E.

6. Add garlic and herbs.

In tests, garlic, rosemary and sage reduced HCAs, Gray says. Mix them into burgers, use them in marinades or just eat them in a meal with grilled meat.

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4 responses to “Barbecuing This Weekend? Here’s 7 Ways to Reduce HCA Exposure”

  1. Sue says:

    I'm just curious, does the addition of tart cherries or blueberries effect the flavor of ground meats?

    • Mina says:

      Good question. Pleva's Meats, a company that sells such a “cherry burger,” describes their product as “zesty.” There's also a testimonial on their site from someone who says, “…you don't know that there are cherries in your burger; you really don't.”

  2. BBQ Smoker says:

    This one is truly looking one of the most focusing and creative information about Barbecue. And I really love this one. The smoked ribs are really one of the delicious way to make special moments. And the regarding tips about how to cut cancer risk while we enjoying Barbecue is truly looking healthy and eye opening. Thanks for sharing some of most fabulous and most essential featured information in this post.

    • JimmyL says:

      I am a little curious now, since the article says marinating reduces the production of HCAs by as much as 90%, How about barbequeing at a low temperature for a long period ?