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High heat could be bad for meat

Grilling season is here! But before you throw those burgers, dogs and steaks on the grill, there’s something you should know: New evidence suggests that frequently eating grilled meat could be bad for your health. 

We already know that grilling meat over a flame or high temperature can cause cancer-causing chemicals to form—but now, researchers have linked eating grilled or well-done meats to an increased risk of high blood pressure

“High blood pressure affects one in three adults, and it can lead to a number of very serious health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke,” said Hans Zuckerman, D.O., a Geisinger family medicine physician. “Adults should take care to ensure their blood pressure stays in the normal range, which means eating a healthy diet.”

Researchers analyzed detailed cooking information in people who regularly ate beef, chicken and fish—none of whom had high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or cancer at the start of the study. 

Over the next 12 to 16 years, they found a number of people developed high blood pressure. The risk of developing high blood pressure was 17 percent higher among people who grilled, broiled or roasted beef, pork, chicken or fish over high heat 15 times per month compared with people who prepared meat the same way just four times a month.

The risk of high blood pressure was also 15 percent higher in those people who cooked their meat well done, compared to those who preferred their meat rare.

These findings follow a report from the World Health Organization’s cancer research group that red and processed meats could increase your risk for cancer, especially colorectal cancer. However, the report also highlighted the fact that there are health benefits to eating meat. 

Red meat is a good source of iron and vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps red blood and nerve cells healthy. Red meat also contains zinc, which boosts your immune system, and protein, which helps muscle and promotes bone health. 

“This new research is yet another reminder that it’s important to be cognizant of diet and exercise, and eat and prepare foods in moderation,” said Dr. Zuckerman. “For example, you may want to limit grilling and charring meats to just once or twice a week, rather than multiple times.”

When grilling meat, it’s not necessary to char it as long as it’s cooked to the proper temperature. Before eating, you may also want to cut off charred parts of that steak or chicken breast. 

Limiting your red and processed meat consumption can help you avoid health risks. But when you do eat red and processed meat, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat, which are lower in fat and cholesterol
  • Buy grass-fed beef, which is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef
  • Pick nitrate-free or uncured bacon, jerky and cold cuts. Sodium nitrate may increase your risk of heart disease and affect the way your body uses sugar, which could lead to diabetes.

“Yes, burgers, hot dogs, steaks and other grilled meats are a frequent part of dinner over the summer. But you should also focus on flavorful fruits and vegetables that are low in calories and full of vitamins and nutrients,” said Dr. Zuckerman. 


Hans Zuckerman, D.O., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Pottsville. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Zuckerman or another primary care physician, call 570-624-4444 or visit Geisinger.org.