As the nation gears up for the annual celebration honoring American workers, Moncrief Cancer Institute’s dietitian Milette Siler is here to make your Labor Day meal planning healthier (and more flavorful) for friends and family.

“Research shows a clear link between diets high in red and processed meats (like hot dogs and sausages) and an increased risk for colon cancers,” Siler said. “We also know that grilling any meat can cause cancer-causing substances to form.”

These substances, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when meat, poultry or fish are grilled at high temperatures.
However, this doesn’t mean the grill can’t be fired up, and Siler offers five simple tips to reduce your risk while still enjoying grilling.

1. Skip red or processed meats in favor of poultry or fish. Most of us enjoy a great steak; but, as with most things in life, moderation is key. The latest research indicates that eating more than 12 to 18 ounces of red meat in a week increases our risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. With the average American eating just under 60 ounces (3.7 pounds!) a week, there is room for improvement for most of us.

2. Marinate. Not only will your end product be more flavorful and juicy, HCA formation is limited when meat is marinated for 30 minutes or more before grilling. Don’t forget to discard your marinade after you have finished, and never reuse it to baste cooked meat.

3. Partially pre-cook meat before grilling. By pre-cooking your meat on the stovetop or oven before grilling, you can limit the amount of time your meat is exposed to smoke and the amount of PAHs formed. Note: Be sure to pre-cook meat immediately before grilling, instead of letting it sit out. This will keep the food safer from bacteria that can cause illness.

4. Keep the fire low. Keep the meat away from direct flame, and avoid cooking quickly at high temperatures for long periods. To reduce flare-ups, cut away fatty portions of steak or gristle, move coals to the side of your grill, and cook your meat in the center. Before serving, cut away any visible signs of charring to further reduce risk.

5. Fire up a rainbow. Grilled fruits and vegetables taste wonderful, are low in calories, and are high in fiber, vitamins, and naturally-occurring compounds called phytochemicals that are known cancer fighters. Try chunks of fruit and veggies on a kebab, or substitute a grilled and seasoned portabella mushroom for your usual burger. Broiling or grilling fruits or veggies that are a little past their peak freshness is a wonderful way to use up extra produce in your fridge in a delicious way.