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One of the first things many of us do when the weather gets warm is fire up the grill! We tend to think of grilling as a healthful way to prepare food. With just a few spices and a clean grill, you can trade winter’s deep frying and rich sauces for summertime’s fresh charcoal flavoring.

But a word of caution: cooking meats at very high temperatures creates compounds that have been shown to cause DNA-altering changes that can increase the risk of cancer. One study has linked a diet high in charred, well-done red meat to pancreatic cancer, while people at high risk for colorectal cancer are advised to avoid red and processed meats in general.

If your time away from the salon inspires the outdoor cook in you, make sure you’re grilling in the safest manner possible. City of Hope suggests guidelines:

Vegetables. Load up the grill! The cancer-risking substances formed when grilling meat are not present when grilling vegetables. And, of course, vegetables are just really good for you!

Lean poultry and seafood. Since eating poultry and seafood does not carry an increased risk of colorectal cancer, they can be good choices for your meal’s protein as long as you don’t eat the charred parts. Research suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and cod can lower your cancer risk.

Red meat. If you do grill red meat, marinate it first, turn the pieces frequently and remove charred portions before serving.

Whole grains. Opt for whole grain for burger buns and side dishes like pasta salads. Whole grains are packed with fiber and other nutrients that can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Fruit. Instead of finishing off your meal with a big ol’ cheesecake, lower your cancer risk by filling a bowl with fruits of all colors.

EatingWell.com offers this grilling recipe for chicken with ratatouille veggies.

Healthy Grilling!

Grilled Chicken Ratatouille

Makes: 4 servings

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
1 tsp salt
Canola or olive oil cooking spray
1 red bell pepper, halved lengthwise, stemmed and seeded
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

Preheat grill to medium-high. Combine oil, basil, marjoram and salt in a small bowl and reserve 1 tablespoon of the mixture in another small bowl; set aside. Coat both sides of bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, tomato and onion pieces with cooking spray. Grill the vegetables 3-5 minutes, turning once, until soft and charred in spots. Rub the tablespoon of reserved herb mixture on both sides of chicken and sprinkle with pepper. Grill the chicken until cooked through and no longer pink in the center. Chop the vegetables into 1-inch pieces, and toss with vinegar and the remaining herb mixture to make the ratatouille. Serve the grilled chicken with the ratatouille.