We've had a decent glimpse of sunshine so far this summer and by now, most of us have already dragged the barbecue out of the shed, dusted off the cobwebs and started charcoaling away to our sunny hearts' content.
Now, I hate to be a kill joy, but, if well-done burgers or charred sausages are your thing, it may be worth knowing that there is evidence to suggest that a heavy intake of barbecued meat could increase cancer risk.
'Oh for God's sakes, why?' I hear you ask. Well, cooking meat at a high temperature causes chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form. These carcinogenic compounds can cause changes in the DNA that can lead to cancer. Research to date shows exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals, but, whether such exposure causes cancer in humans remains unclear.
A University of Minnesota study which tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period found that regularly consuming well-done or charred meat may increase human risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60pc, so, it's worth it to be at least aware of the potential risks.
It's not just the act of barbecuing that's the problem, it's the type of meat we use as well. Several meat studies have shown that regularly eating processed meat like sausages and hot dogs significantly increases the risk of developing bowel cancer irrespective of how you cook them. In fact, The World Cancer Research Fund recommends we avoid processed meats altogether because they're manufactured with a carcinogenic (sodium nitrate) which is linked to bowel cancer.
Have your barbecue and eat it too
Don't worry, I'm not remotely suggesting that you go packing your barbecue back into the shed just yet. You can have your barbecue and your health, too. By following some simple guidelines, you can cut the health risks right down and enjoy as many barbecues as an Irish summer will allow.
Six steps to a healthier barbie
Marinate before cooking
If you're cooking meat or poultry, marinate it in olive oil and lemon juice beforehand. As well as adding flavour and moisture, research shows that these two items reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds by up to 99pc while cooking. Add fresh or dried herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, thyme or oregano to the marinade to further reduce the formation of HCAs.
Keep it lean
Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off any excess fat before barbecuing because when fat and juice drip from meat, flames flare up and create more smoke, which is what leads to carcinogen formation.
Turn down the heat
Use low to medium cooking temperatures, avoid flare-ups and flip every few minutes. Cook thoroughly but don't overcook foods. The charred bits on foods are the largest sources of PAHs and HCAs, so, if you have charred sections of meat, cut them off.
Surf & turf
Go beyond bangers and burgers by throwing an ocean catch on the barbie for a healthy change. Beef, pork and poultry tend to form more HCAs than seafood because of their higher amino acid content and longer grilling times. Fish that barbecue particularly well are salmon, halibut, tuna and swordfish.
Clean before you cook
Clean your grill prior to every use. Not only is it more appetising to eat food that's been cooked on a clean grill, but you'll reduce the amount of char that you'll be eating.
Balance your barbecue
One of the easiest ways to cancer-proof your barbecue is to add anti-oxidant rich veggies. Skewered kebabs are a great way to do this. You can alternate chunks of meat with onions, peppers, courgette, and mushrooms. Also try serving your meat/fish with a large green salad.
Swordfish & Veggie Kebabs
1.3lb swordfish, cut into large chunks
1 large courgette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 red peppers, cut into large pieces
12 button mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy
3/4 of a lemon, juiced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp chilli flakes
Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the swordfish, courgette, red peppers and mushrooms to the marinade. Mix until well combined. Let sit for 15- 30mins. Thread the marinated fish and vegetables on to the bamboo skewers. Barbecue over a medium heat for a few minutes on each side until cooked through.
This article orginally appeared in The Herald