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8 Scary Things That Happen To Your Body When You Eat Grilled Foods

With summer in full swing, everyone's barbecuing more, but what does that mean for your health?

From the satisfying sound of that sizzle when a steak hits the grates, to the unique taste that only grilled food can claim, firing up the backyard BBQ and enjoying something grilled can make anyone's mouth water. There aren't too many things that are more pleasing as having a freshly grilled hot dog on a warm summer day or enjoying cooked fish with perfectly lined-up char marks. But is there a downside to enjoying this summertime staple too frequently?

Cooking outdoors has become more popular now that many of us have been social distancing due to COVID-19. According to the NPD market research group, 81% of people who normally cook outdoors prefer this method even more frequently during coronavirus, and many have increased their grilling frequency. That's both good—and bad. Let's start with good:

Grilling food comes with a surprising number of positives that appeal to the masses. For example, grilling gives foods such a unique (and delicious) taste, that it can make even boring produce taste good and encourage you to eat more veggies. And we don't even have to mention how much easier it is to throw some meat on the grill rather than take out all our pots and pans and clean them after all the oil splatters everywhere. (Just make sure to follow our 24 Essential Grilling Tips from Top Chefs to make sure your grilling session goes as planned.)

On the other hand, there is a dark side of grilling that we need to discuss. It's not just that the typical foods with grill—processed hot dogs and red meat—are unhealthy, but it's also the technique of grilling that's not too great for you. So, what exactly are the potential side effects of eating grilled foods? Read on to find out more, and then make sure you're staying as safe as possible by reading up on these 13 Grilling Mistakes That Could Be Making You Sick.

Increased risk for certain cancers

doctors appointment

When certain foods are cooked at very high temperatures, they form natural chemicals called polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These chemicals are linked to developing certain cancers, including esophageal and colorectal. They are formed when the food is charred or burnt, so avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame is advised.

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Increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes


One walk down the marinade section of the grocery store, and you will see tons of pre-made options to flavor your steak or chicken. While some can be a healthy choice, others are loaded with sodium and sugar. Eating too much sodium puts a person at risk of high blood pressure, and too much sugar puts a person at increased risk for diabetes. Grilling too much marinated meat may mean that you are eating too much salt or sugar without even realizing it.

Increased Inflammation

grilled chicken thighs

If you are opting for grilled meats cooked at high heat instead of sticking with plants, you may be setting yourself up for other issues in your body. A by-product of grilling meats is known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), or glycotoxins. As food is grilled and the AGEs multiply and are then ingested, data suggests that this can lead to increased levels of inflammation. Too much inflammation is linked to development of many chronic diseases, including certain cancers. In addition to grilled foods, beware of these 14 Inflammatory Foods That Cause Weight Gain.



For many people, the thought of grilling conjures images of sizzling steaks and chicken, not asparagus and mushroom caps. While meats can be a part of a healthy diet, they do not provide your body with that all-important health benefits of fiber which helps keep bowel movements, well, moving. If you are not balancing your meat intake out with some fruits, veggies, beans, or other fiber-rich foods, you are possibly setting yourself up for some very unpleasant bathroom time.

Raised cholesterol

grilled steak with rosemary

If you are grilling fatty red meats on the regular and not opting for a fresh piece of fish or even a leaner cut of meat (like flank steak), you could be setting yourself up for some cardiovascular challenges, particularly an increase in LDL cholesterol. This increase will in turn put you at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Whether grilled, fried, baked, or otherwise, eating too much saturated fat is not a heart-healthy diet choice. To reduce your risk of high cholesterol, opt to grill (in moderation) one of these Best Forms of Lean Protein You Can Eat.

Increased risk for obesity

Doctor measuring mans chest for bmi overweight fat

Foods like our beloved hot dogs are considered processed, and often is loaded with salt and fat, while being low in vitamins and fiber. Eating too many processed foods sets a person up for a slew of health challenges, including obesity and cardiovascular disease.

May lead to low birth weight in babies

low birth weight

Eating for two means taking certain precautions to keep the developing baby healthy and safe. While eating grilled food on occasion doesn't have to concern an expecting mother as much as downing a liter of vodka, she should be aware of the risks associated with eating too much grilled meat during her pregnancy.

The PAHs found in grilled meats cross the human placenta. Too too much exposure has been linked to low birth weight in babies, which can put baby at risk for some health issues once it is born.

Increased risk for fertility challenges in women

fertility struggles

Exposure to the AGEs may put women at risk for fertility challenges if they are trying to become pregnant.

In one study, researchers studied the uterus cavity of women who were trying to conceive. They found that the presence of AGEs appeared to cause inflammation in the cells lining the womb, which makes it more difficult for an embryo to implant. Thus, eating too much grilled meat may expose a woman to too many AGEs, which in turn may result in fertility challenges.

While you're health is at risk when it comes to grilling, so is the quality of your food. So next time you fire up the BBQ, make sure you're not making any of the 17 Grilling Mistakes That Are Ruining Your BBQ.

Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer who has been in practice for almost 20 years. Read more about Lauren