Four out of five Americans will be enjoying meals hot off an outdoor grill this summer. This can be good news and bad news for the health-conscious eater.
Bad news, part 1:
A round-up of typical BBQ foods like burgers, steaks, sausages, creamy deli salads, and calorie-rich drinks (e.g. sodas, lemonade, beers, mixed drinks) can quickly add up to more than an entire day’s worth (if not multiple days’ worth) of calories, fat and sodium in one sitting.
Bad news, part 2:
Research shows that grilling meats at high heat can cause the formation of harmful chemicals related to cancer [i.e. heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)].
Here’s some good news for grill-lovers:
There are simple ways to minimize the harmful chemicals (HCA and PAH); plus, grilling has the potential to be one of the healthiest ways to cook because it doesn’t need a lot of added fat to be delicious. Not to mention that there are so many ways to incorporate veggies — and fruit! — on the grill.
The Nutrient-Rich Grill: Get More for Your Calories!
Eating a nutrient-rich diet means getting more for your calories. Build a better burger by choosing the leanest grinds, whether it’s beef or turkey.
Try replacing 1/4 of the meat with a cooked whole grain like brown rice, brown rice or whole wheat cous cous, black quinoa, or buckwheat groats. There are also a number of vegetarian patties out there that are cholesterol-free and lower in fat.
Add nutrition and flavor by topping your burger with nutrient-rich picks such as avocados, fresh salsas, grilled onions, grilled zucchini, and more. It’s a good idea to stay away from cheese if you can; it’s delicious, but is still one of the easiest ways to overdo saturated fat and sodium.
Beyond the burger, look to grill lean meats such as shrimp skewers, pork tenderloin, chicken sausage, or lean steaks. Round out your meal by grilling fruits and veggies. All most of them need is a light brush with canola oil.
Try grilling corn (a whole grain!), eggplant, mushrooms, summer squash, onions, peaches, bananas and pineapple.
Cut it Out: Minimize Harmful Chemicals
Marinating meat with antioxidant-rich herbs and spices for a few hours before grilling can help reduce the formation of harmful chemicals.
Try marinating with garlic, rosemary, mint, chives, oregano, sage, paprika, and more. Go explore your spice cabinet and experiment! But here’s where more (time) isn’t necessarily better. Marinating overnight can make the antioxidants less effective, and marinating for just a few hours is enough to make meats flavorful.
Higher temperatures (above 325° F) are part of what leads to the formation of harmful chemicals.
Try cooking meats at lower temperatures for slightly longer periods of time; they’re safe to eat when they reach a certain minimum internal temperature (check out the FDA table below).
For example, burgers should get to 160° F. No grill master should be without a good meat thermometer!
Since the harmful chemicals are formed because of a combination of high heat and fat, you can reduce exposure even more by grilling veggies.
You’ll also get more nutrition with less fat (and for fewer calories). Great “meaty” meatless options are eggplant, portobello mushrooms and tofu.
Food Safety on the Grill
Check out what the Food and Drug Administration has to say about safe grilling below:
- Marinate safely. Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade.
- Cook immediately after “partial cooking.” If you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.
- Cook food thoroughly. When it’s time to cook the food, have your food thermometer ready. Always use it to be sure your food is cooked thoroughly.
- Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals. This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking.
- Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
|Safe Food Temperatures|
|Steaks and Roasts||145°F|
|Pork or Ground Beef||160°F|
|Chicken Breasts/Whole Poultry||165°F|
|Shrimp, Lobster & Crabs||Cook until pearly & opaque|
|Clams, Oysters & Mussels||Cook until the shells open|
For more of my food tips (all with great savings!), check out my Healthy Living for Less section.