The Anti-Cancer Barbecue

Healthy grilling recipes that help cut your disease risk.

Mexican Burger (Photo: Lisa Hubbard)

Mexican Burger

Traditional barbecue fare — with its sizzling lipids and charred carcinogens — can raise your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases that target over-40 women. But where there’s a grill, there’s a way. MORE scoured the latest studies and spoke to experts about which foods and cooking techniques boost health and lower risks. The result: four nutritious, worry-free summer dishes.

Mexican Burger

Why it’s good for you:

  • Grass-Fed Beef: A pound of it is pricey but here’s what you get for your money: higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 acids and lower levels of total fat than in non-grass-fed beef, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Bonus: We added soy protein, which absorbs the meaty flavor and cuts the fat.
  • Whole-Grain Buns: You probably know that fiber helps prevent disease, but a new study from the University of Minnesota finds that the phytochemicals in whole grains may also fight the chronic inflammation that leads to or worsens arthritis and diabetes.
  • Salsa: Postmenopausal women with a high intake of green bell pepper and premenopausal women with a high intake of tomatoes showed lower rates of breast cancer, according to a study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.

Serves 4 (1 burger and 1/4 cup salsa per serving)


  • 1/4 cup dry textured vegetable protein (labeled TVP; available in health food stores)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound grass-fed ground beef, at least 95% lean
  • 4 whole wheat hamburger buns
  • 1 cup baby spinach leaves


  • 1/2 pound ripe red tomato, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons diced red onion

1. Place the TVP and water in a small bowl; let it sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, mix the salt, pepper, and cumin into the ground beef with a spoon. Combine the beef mixture and TVP and form into four patties.

2. Spray the grill with fat-free nonstick cooking spray and heat to medium heat. Grill the burgers about 10 minutes on each side, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

3. Meanwhile, make the salsa: In a bowl, mix tomato, green pepper, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, cayenne, salt and onion. Garnish each burger with about 6 spinach leaves and 1/4 cup salsa; serve on the buns.

Nutritional Analysis

Per serving:

355 calories

35.5g protein

35g carbohydrates

8.4g total fat

3.1g saturated fat

5.3g fiber

501mg sodium

Grilled Vegetable Medley

Why it’s good for you:

  • Mushrooms: A new study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture finds that the cheapest and most ubiquitous mushroom in your supermarket — the humble white button variety — is actually one of the highest in antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of cancer by minimizing the damage caused by free radicals, unsteady molecules that latch onto healthy cells.
  • Edamame: A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that postmenopausal women who had 20 grams of soy protein a day (one serving of our dish delivers almost 3 grams) were able to stave off any gain in abdominal fat (hello, menopot), the most dangerous type when it comes to heart disease. "The phytoestrogens in soy mimic the estrogen in your body, and the more estrogen you have, the less fat you store around your middle," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a nutritionist in Sarasota, Florida.
  • Corn often gets a bad rap, mostly because its distant cousin, high fructose corn syrup, is a nutritional zero. But corn straight off the cob offers filling fiber — 4 grams per cob — and ferulic acid, an anti-cancer phytochemical found in abundance in cooked corn. (Heating it unbinds the antioxidant from the corn’s fiber, allowing your body to absorb it.)

Serves 4 (1 1/2 cups per serving)

6 ears fresh corn, husks removed

6 ounces fresh white button mushrooms, sliced in half (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 cup frozen, shelled edamame, thawed

1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 cup diced fresh zucchini

3 tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Spray the grill surface with fat-free nonstick cooking spray. Heat the grill to low heat, and grill corn for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned, turning as needed. Let cool, and slice corn off cobs.

2. Place mushrooms in a wok or pan designed for use on grills, and cook about 5 to 7 minutes until just browned. In a salad bowl, toss mushrooms and corn gently with the remaining ingredients, and serve.

Nutritional Analysis

Per serving:

232 calories

10.3g protein

34g carbohydrates

8.6g total fat

1g saturated fat

6.9g fiber

332mg sodium

Chicken Satay with Red Grapes and Mango Chutney

Why it’s good for you:

  • Grapes: A new study finds that a daily intake of about four grapes lowers risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. When you have a choice, go for red over green: Red grape skins contain more heart-healthy resveratrol, Gerbstadt says.
  • Mango: The antioxidants in this fruit can help keep skin cancer-free. (They serve as a natural SPF, increasing your skin’s ability to protect against the sun’s UV rays.)
  • Chicken: Protein helps maintain muscle; what’s less known is that it’s also essential to bone health. According to recent research, women with higher protein intakes may have better bone density. Why? "Protein may increase the absorption of calcium," says Jane Kerstetter, PhD, of the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Serves 4 (2 skewers per serving, with about 3/4 cup chutney)

8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least two hours

1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons clover honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely minced onion

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced


1 ripe mango, peeled and diced

1 1/2 cups halved red grapes

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons chopped peppermint leaves

1 thinly sliced lime and grapes, for garnish

1. Slice the chicken into thin, long strips, less than 1/2 inch thick.

2. Prepare the marinade: Combine the oil, orange juice, lime juice, honey, salt, onion, mustard, and garlic in a medium bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of marinade to brush on the chicken. Add chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

3. Make the chutney: Place the mango in a medium bowl. Grill grapes in a grill wok or pan until lightly browned and skins are soft, about 10 minutes; add the grapes to the mango and stir. In a small bowl, dissolve the brown sugar in the vinegar, and add to the fruit mixture. Stir in the peppermint, and set aside.

4. Thread the chicken strips onto the soaked skewers and add slices of lime. Spray grill with fat-free nonstick cooking spray, and cook chicken over medium heat about 15 minutes, turning often and brushing with reserved marinade every few minutes until marinade is used up. Serve right away, with 3/4 cup chutney. Garnish with whole grapes if desired.

Nutritional Analysis

Per serving:

363 calories

40.4g protein

37.9g carbohydrates

5.8g total fat

1.1g saturated fat

1.8g fiber

436mg sodium

Grilled Pineapple and Banana with Spiced Yogurt Dip

Why it’s good for you:

  • Pineapple and banana: A recent study linked a high lifetime intake of smoked or grilled meat with an increased risk of breast cancer — and found that women who had the highest intake of fruits and veggies and the lowest intake of meat had the lowest breast cancer risk. "We don’t know for sure, but it may be that the phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables have a protective effect against the carcinogens in overcooked meat," says Susan Steck, PhD, lead researcher of the study and a research assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.
  • Yogurt: Aside from the huge hit of calcium you get from yogurt (8 ounces of low-fat yogurt contain one-third of the recommended daily intake), certain blends also contain live probiotics, good bacteria that can help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as bloating, gas, and cramping, Gerbstadt says. Look for yogurts with labels that say "contains live cultures"; the heating process can wipe out the good bacteria in some products.
  • Bananas: All that calcium you’re getting from the yogurt gets a power boost when you pair it with potassium, which bananas have in bunches. That’s because potassium may actually help prevent the loss of calcium, which helps reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Bananas are also a good source of B6, which helps fight infection and creates serotonin (a mood-regulating neurotransmitter).

Serves 4 (1 banana, 2 pineapple slices, and 1/4 cup dip per serving)


1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

3/4 pound fresh pineapple (about 1/2 small)

4 small bananas (about 1 pound total)

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon honey to drizzle on fruit (optional)

1. Make the dip: In a bowl, combine yogurt, ginger, honey and lemon zest. Set aside.

2. Preheat the grill to medium heat. Halve pineapple lengthwise, and remove tough core, leaving outer skin intact. Slice crosswise into 8 equal pieces, and set aside. Slice bananas lengthwise, leaving the skin on. Combine orange juice and oil, and brush generously on both sides of the bananas and the pineapple slices. Sprinkle both sides of the pineapple slices and the non-skin side of banana with cinnamon. Grill the fruit about 5 minutes on each side (including the skin side of banana). Transfer to a plate (with or without the skins) and drizzle with honey. Serve with yogurt dip.

Nutritional Analysis

Per serving:

215 calories

4.4g protein

49.2g carbs

2g total fat

7g saturated fat

4.4g fiber

38.8mg sodium

Is There Any Safe Way to Grill?

Most of us use a meat thermometer to avoid undercooking, but it will also help prevent overcooking, which may cause cancer. A study published last year in Epidemiology found that postmenopausal women with a high intake of smoked or grilled meat had a 47 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer. The researchers attribute some of the higher risk to the fact that carcinogens known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) are formed when meat is well done and cooked at high temperature. Here’s how to lower your risk.

Marinate the meat. Marinades that contain honey, lemon, garlic, or onion can help reduce the formulation of HCAs. Researchers theorize that the sulfur compounds and antioxidants in these ingredients slow the formation of HCAs. Marinating meat also adds moisture, which may help reduce burning and HCA formation.

Cook, but don’t overcook. Regardless of whether meat looks or tastes well done or rare, carcinogens begin to form at an internal temperature above 212 degrees, so the best way to determine doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and chicken or turkey breasts to 170 degrees.

Mind the grill temperature. Charcoal grills don’t come with low, medium, and high settings, but you can gauge the heat with this test. If you hold your hand about 5 inches above the grill, the heat is high if you have to pull away after two to four seconds; medium if you have to pull away after five to seven seconds; and low if you don’t have to pull away before eight to 10 seconds.

Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2008.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:07

Find this story at: