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Sensible Eating: BBQ

A lot of people worry about cancer risk from grilling, so they try to avoid all BBQ foods. However, although the risk is real, it can be greatly reduced by changing the way you do it and the food you choose to grill. The risk comes from HCAs – Heterocyclic amines, which is a cancer-causing compounds formed by combining HIGH heat and muscle proteins of the red meat, poultry and seafood. Consumption of HCAs is linked to cancers of colon and stomach. Here are some tips for you to enjoy your Korean, Japanese BBQ cuisines or your own backyard BBQ without needing to worry about your health.

1. Turn the gas down and raise the grilling surface from the heat source to lower the cooking temperature. This can avoid the black char that can form on meat. The carcinogen content in the char is extremely high.

2. Marinating and flipping meat every minute. Marinating can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent according to the American Institute of Cancer Research. The Asian BBQ usually involves lots of flipping of the meat on the hot plate and the meat is usually already marinated, so you should feel safe to enjoy those cuisines.

3. Grill leaner cuts of meat that will drip less and cause less smoke. Fats on the meat melt under high heat and turn into grease. As the grease drip onto the red hot charcoal, we see lots of smoke, another cancer-causing compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons-PAHs is formed. Therefore, do not focus on your red meat - beef, pork, lamb, and sausages/hot links at the BBQ but try using Chicken and Fish as other options.

4. If you really enjoy red meat, try making kabobs. The smaller pieces of meat reduce cooking time and you can include more vegetables on the kabobs.

5. Try grilling vegetables and fruits as they do NOT form HCAs. Also, fruits and vegetables contains cancer-fighting nutrients and phytochemicals which stimulate enzymes that can convert HCAs to an inactive, stable form that is easily eliminated from the body.

6. Include whole grain in your BBQ meals. Whatever cuisine you choose to enjoy, always remember the New American Plate which is the AICR’s model of healthy eating that makes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans the major portion of your meals.

Here are some examples of how you can apply the above tips if you go to a Korean BBQ restaurant:

1. Choose leaner meats like pork, chicken, and avoid the pork belly and ribs.

2. Fill yourself up with their small dishes of appetizers, especially vegetables like kim chee, spinach, beansprouts, etc.

3. Use lots of the lettuce they provide to wrap the BBQ meat to increase your consumption of veggies.

4. Include rice or cold noodles as part of the meal to make it a well-balanced meal and to avoid over consumption of BBQ meat.

If you’re doing your backyard BBQ, try the below tips:

1. Use fish and seafood: a. Try grilling salmon. One good way is to use a piece of foil to wrap up the seasoned salmon (with garlic salt & lemon juice), and then put the bundle inside your grill. You and your guests will enjoy a semi-grilled and poached juicy salmon. b. Try scallop and shrimp kabobs. The grilled seafood sticks will be a great highlight to your BBQ party.

2. Include lots of veggies: a. Prepare a seasoned mushroom medley. Mix a variety of mushrooms such as the Japanese Enoki and shiitake mushrooms, season with garlic and a little olive oil and wrapped in foil, toss over the grill for a few minutes; this tasty dish is ready to serve when the packet starts puffing up. b. Provide lots of lettuce to serve with the grilled meats. c. Make kebobs of onions, bell peppers, yellow and red peppers, mushrooms, and even pineapples.

3. Serve a fruit plate as dessert

4.Serve corn and sweet potato to make a balanced meal. Corn is a popular carbohydrate food item for grilling, and Yam is a popular Hong Kong styled BBQ food item which is wrapped with foil and put inside the grill at the beginning of the BBQ for a slow cooking process. Towards the end of the BBQ, you can enjoy the yummy bites of this sweet starchy root.

Wishing you all a happy BBQ season!

Interested in learning about weight goal and nutrition needs? Schedule a free body weight and fat% analysis with Hazel at 626-283-5128 or email to

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