Enjoy Safer Grilling this Year with Rosemary and Cherries

For many of us, spring signals the start of grilling season. Unfortunately, grilling meat and cooking meat at high temperatures result in the formation of chemical compounds, which may increase the risk of cancer. This year, if you find the urge to fire up the barbecue irresistible, addition of either of a couple of common food items can greatly reduce the formation such dangerous compounds: rosemary or tart cherries.

Chief among the cancer causing compounds produced by cooking meats are heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are classified by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as human carcinogens that increase the risk of cancer.

Researchers at Kansas State University recently studied adding rosemary extract to ground beef. In addition to alcohol, the rosemary extracts contained a mixture of rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid. The researchers were not sure how or if the compounds worked but they found that adding the extracts reduced the HCA levels anywhere from 30 to 100 percent.

In another study published this month in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers in Saudi Arabia found that the total amount of HCAs in grilled chicken was reduced seven-fold when 2% rosemary extract was added. The researchers also found that two other dangerous compounds created during cooking were inhibited to non-detectable levels.

Previously, researchers at Michigan State University added tissue of two varieties of tart cherries (Montmorency and Balaton) to ground beef patties and compared them to a control group of plain ground meat patties. In addition to studying fat content and formation of HCAs, the researchers also studied the levels of lipid oxidation during storage, which causes meat to become discolored, change texture and taste spoiled. The result was that the addition of the cherries reduced the formation of HCAs and also retarded lipid oxidation and spoilage.

"The fat contents of the cherry patties were, as expected, lower than that of the control patties, whereas the moisture contents were greater," said J. Ian Gray, PhD, Professor of Food Science at Michigan State. "Cherry tissue will not only slow down the oxidation deterioration of meat lipids, but will also substantially reduce the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines."

In addition to cherries and rosemary, which are known for their anti-cancer properties and loaded with anti-oxidants, other food items have also been shown to have the ability to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds during cooking. Honey is excellent for marinades, providing great taste, browning and glaze formation. It also blocks the production of HCAs and other carcinogens during grilling. Other common food items, which reduce cancer-causing compounds include: basil, mint, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, garlic and thyme.

Here are some other ways to help reduce the risk of cancer from cooked meats:

  • Cook at lower temperatures. The higher the temperature the more HCAs and other cancer causing compounds are formed.
  • Bake whenever possible. With baking it is easier to control temperature and the highest amount of cancer causing compounds are produced by grilling, barbecuing and pan frying.
  • Don’t make gravy from meat drippings. The National Cancer Institute warns that meat drippings – even from meats cooked at lower temperatures – contain substantial amounts of HCAs.
  • Limit consumption of meats, especially high-fat meats, reduce the portion sizes, select lean cuts and trim the fat on meats.
  • Avoid charring meat and eating charred parts.
  • Be sure to eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
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Tony Isaacs

Tony Isaacs, is a natural health author, advocate and researcher who hosts The Best Years in Life website for those who wish to avoid prescription drugs and mainstream managed illness and live longer, healthier and happier lives naturally. Mr. Isaacs is the author of books and articles about natural health, longevity and beating cancer including "Cancer's Natural Enemy" and is working on a major book project due to be published later this year. He is also a contributing author for the worldwide advocacy group S.A N.E.Vax. Inc which endeavors to uncover the truth about HPV vaccine dangers.

Mr. Isaacs is currently residing in scenic East Texas and frequently commutes to the even more scenic Texas hill country near Austin and San Antonio to give lectures and health seminars. He also hosts the CureZone Ask Tony Isaacs - featuring Luella May forum as well as the Yahoo Health Group Oleander Soup and he serves as a consultant to the Utopia Silver Supplement Company.

Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. Steve Wood says

    Hey Tony, I met a Tony Isaacs years ago in Santa Barbara. Whether or not you are that Tony I’m glad you are doing well. BUT, I must take exception with your ‘safer grilling’ article. I have been enjoying charred medium rare beef for fourty years. It’s not only delicious, but it supplies B vitamins, and other very important nutrients. When meat is seared properly at high temerature at the begining it seals in the juices and makes for a delicious result. When meat is cooked ‘low and slow’, without prior searing, especialy if cooked to medium or well, it becomes tough and dry, and the B vitamins are cooked out. When I cook a steak it is black on the outside, and pink- red on the inside. Enjoying tender delicious meat, Steve Wood

  2. Anonymous says

    Charred meats are full of heterocyclic amines and AGEs. Bad bad stuff. Were talking cancer here.

    Does that mean everyone who eats them will get cancer? Of course not. But it raises risk and anything we can do to lower those risks is a good thing. No one is saying you can’t eat meat. But why not try to mitigate some of the risks while you are at it.

    Lots of evidence to be found. Just a few articles for more info:


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