Barbecue season is here. But before you grab that grill you might want to keep reading, especially if you’re prone to high blood pressure or heart disease. That’s because recent research shows that grilling regularly can increase your blood pressure.
According to the study published in the medical journal Circulation researchers found that eating grilled meat on a regular basis increases blood pressure over and above the amount normally linked to meat consumption. This result occurred over and above the effects of meat eating on high blood pressure, which was taken into account within the study. The researchers at the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts found that the study participants’ blood pressure increased due to compounds created when cooking meat on a high heat or over an open flame.
These compounds, known as heterocyclic aromatic amines or heterocyclic amines (HAA), have previously been linked to cancer, especially stomach, esophageal, lung, prostate, colorectal, pancreatic and a significantly increased risk of dying from breast cancer, but their effects on blood pressure were previously speculative. Another study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that eating a high amount of grilled meat increased the risk of all-cause mortality by a whopping 23 percent. That’s an astounding risk of dying from any disease due to a single cause—in this case, eating excessive amounts of barbecued meat. And, for women who have had a cancer diagnosis the risk of dying from any cause increases to 31 percent if they continue to eat a lot of barbecued meat.
Other research found a link between high amounts of consumption of meats cooked over high temperatures and the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Fatty liver disease not only impairs liver function, but it also causes weight gain and digestive problems. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body poorly responds to insulin to regulate blood sugar levels and is a precursor to diabetes.
Does that mean you need to give up your grill habit? My answer may come as a surprise to you, but no, you don’t need to give up grilling altogether. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk.
- Cut back on how frequently you grill. The exact amount that is safe is not known so the more you reduce the amount of meat you barbecue, the better.
- Choose lean cuts of meat since HAAs are formed when fat is heated to a high temperature.
- Cut off excessive amounts of any remaining fat since the grease falls onto the flames and causes flare-ups that increase the formation of HAAs.
- Add more vegetables to your grilled meals. That’s easy to do when you add vegetable kebabs or cast iron cookware with your favorite vegetables.
- Keep the heat low on your barbecue. Heterocyclic amines form from high temperatures. The motto “low and slow” should be your mantra to keep your grill habit healthier. Of course, be sure that poultry reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it is cooked throughout.
- Dice any meat or poultry you cook into smaller pieces and cook them in a cast iron frying pan on the grill. This reduces the chances that the meat will char, which creates a high amount of HAAs.
- Don’t leave your barbecue unattended and keep a cup of water handy to pour on flames when they start to flare. Flare-ups increase the formation of HAAs.
- Eat cruciferous vegetables with every meal prepared on the grill. Research in the medical journal Food Chemistry found that isothiocyanates which form during the digestion of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower help to eliminate HAAs from the body.
- Clean your grill prior to every use. Food scraps and debris increase the risk of HAA formation.
- Cut off portions that are charred since they are typically packed with HAAs.