Ahh, there’s nothing like the smell of the barbecue grill to make my mouth water. I love grilling in the summer. For one thing, cooking outside keeps me from heating up the kitchen. And, there are usually fewer dirty dishes to wash when I grill out.
While the high temperatures and charring are what give grilled foods their great flavor, they may not be the healthiest for you. Grilling can lead to the production of several carcinogens, including Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs), Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs).
HCA comes from cooking beef, pork, chicken and fish at high temperatures and may contribute to a risk of colon, stomach and other cancers. PAHs are found in smoke and charred meats. They have been classified as carcinogens. AGEs can be found in the browned areas of grilled meat. These substances have been linked with heart disease and diabetes.
I know this sounds scary, but you can take steps to drastically lower the amount of toxins you create when grilling. As you fire up the grill, here are some tips to help you enjoy barbecue season and create healthy, nutritious meals:
Clean your grill
Keep your grill clean by scrubbing it with a grill brush before and after you grill food. Cleaning the grill cuts down on carcinogens that can build up and helps make your food taste better.
Beware of the burn
You can cut down on HCAs and PAHs by cooking meats at a lower heat. You can also line the grill with tinfoil to prevent the drippings that cause flare ups and create toxic smoke. If you cut meat into smaller pieces, it will cook faster at a lower heat. Flipping your food often can keep HCAs as low as possible.
Add bold flavors
You can add bold flavors that enhance the taste of your food without adding very many calories or fat. Some favorite flavor enhancers include Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, tomato paste, molasses, soy sauce and, of course, BBQ sauce.
Mix up marinades
Healthy marinades made with good ingredients and spices can help cut down on HCAs. The reason it works is not completely clear. It may be the marinade creates a protective layer between the proteins in the meat and the grill heat. Or, the antioxidants in the marinade may combat the carcinogens.
You can use a mixture of oils, vinegar and herbs and spices, such as cloves, rosemary, ginger, paprika, oregano, black pepper, garlic powder and more.
Use lean cuts of meat
Leaner meats will produce fewer PAHs. Trim off as much excess fat as you can before you grill. You should also avoid grilling processed meats, such as hot dogs and bratwurst. I know they taste good, but they are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health risks.
Take the skin off chicken
Take the skin off the chicken before you grill. Much of the fat and saturated fat found in chicken is in the skin, which is why we are encouraged to go skinless. Put your rub or marinade directly on the chicken before you grill.
Throw on some vegetables
The best part about grilling vegetables is that they don’t produce HCAs like meats can. In addition, veggies have antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help lessen the damage that HCAs, AGEs and other cooking toxins may cause to your body. Some veggies you can grill include onions, corn on the cob, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus and new potatoes.
Keep the servings small
It can be tempting to pig out when you grill out. You should still keep your portions small even when you’re eating from the grill. To encourage smaller portions, cut the meat in smaller sizes. It will be less tempting to overeat. Of course, you can also eat more veggies and fruits to make up for the smaller serving of meat.
Use these tips for a safe and healthy grilling season. Do you have favorite recipes for marinades or cooking on the grill? We would love to hear them!