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In my cancer nutrition workshops we invariably get talking about the pros and cons of eating meat, and then the question comes up “is it ‘okay’ to BBQ” ??

So the official answer is: it’s not great to BBQ meat - the combination of a high heat and smoke can lead to the formation of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and heterocyclic amines (HCA’s). These chemicals have the potential to cause changes in our DNA, and this could increase the risk of cancer.

Note: this happens with animal proteins and is not the same for vegetables.


Let’s get things into perspective here. How often do we get to BBQ in the UK?? Not very often!

Thinking sensibly, the occasional BBQ is unlikely to have a major impact on your cancer risk if it’s part of a healthy, balanced diet, so enjoy it!

There are some things you can do to ‘healthify’ your BBQ - here are my top 8 tips:

1. Cut meat into smaller portions to reduce cooking time

2. Opt for leaner meats and trim any fat off before grilling to reduce dripping, which increases smoke

3. Cut down on grill time by par-cooking your chicken wings or meat first (start them off in the oven)

4. Marinating your meat before cooking helps to create a barrier and reduce the formation of HCAs

5. Seafood cooks really quickly, which means less time on the grill

6. Cooking over gas rather than coal reduces the pollution emitted, but it doesn’t give the food the same smoky flavour. You could try adding some smoked paprika in your marinade!

7. Add as many veggies as you can to your plate (and your skewer)! Mushrooms make a brilliant alternative to meat

8. Take inspiration e.g. Asian dishes wrapped in a banana leaf. Cook fish in baking parchment (wet) and add layers of rosemary - the steam helps to cook the fish. Or try cooking in a cast iron pot that nestles in the coals like a slow cooker

BBQ’s can be one of those occasions when it can be easy to overdo it on the alcohol front. If you haven’t already, download my free alcohol & cancer guide for some lovely low alcohol and non-alcoholic drink ideas!

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