Is Grilled Food Healthy?
When you eat out but still want to be healthy, what do you do? You order the grilled chicken sandwich instead of that fried chicken you’ve been eyeing on the menu. You choose the grilled option because it’s not covered in batter, deep fried and dripping grease all over your plate, ultimately making it the healthier choice.
But what about backyard barbecues? It’s the season of chef hats, pasta salads and the smell of smoky, grilled meats wafting through the neighborhood. Grilling isn’t just the only way to spend your summer, it’s one of the healthiest ways to cook—or is it?
What Science and Your Grill Have to Say About Grilling
While you’re not adding oil, which adds unneeded calories and fat to your meal, or breading or frying your meats to make them heavier and unhealthier, not everything that lurks under your grill cover is healthy nor is what some choose to grill.
We all love a thick, juicy, charred steak (and if you don’t, you’re missing out). But those of you who don’t are making the healthier choice. The fat that drips down from your steak and other meat choices onto your grill’s hot coals produces smoke that contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), while that charred exterior you so enjoy biting into is packed with heterocyclic amines (HCA). And in lab studies and experiments these two have been found to cause DNA changes that can increase the risk of cancer.
And let’s not ignore the fact that when most Americans fire up their grill, they’re not grilling tiny pieces of lean chicken and slices of zucchini. They’re making several pounds of high-fat meats and sausages—shoveling all kinds of excess amounts of things into your body you don’t need, like saturated fats, calories and cholesterol. And then they’re dipping their meats in BBQ sauce and using dressings for their pasta salads that are both packed full of sugar.
Ways to Make Grilling Healthy
But don’t get us wrong, grilling is a great way to spend your summer evenings. It’s something you should enjoy, and it’s something you can enjoy; you just have to choose the healthy way to do it.
Eliminate sugar from sauces and other condiments. You may not have ever looked, but all the things you love to smother and dip your meats in—BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, ranch dressing and ketchup—aren’t good for you at all. Each packs one heck of a fatty and sugary punch! So either eliminate them all together from your barbecued feast or use the best sugar substitute to make your own BBQ sauce, dressings and condiments.
Grill fruits and vegetables. Everyone needs to eat more fruits and veggies, and when they’re grilled, they’re appealing to those who don’t normally like them and even more appealing to those who do. A diet rich in fruits and veggies is beneficial in numerous ways, like reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity. And to make them even better, PAHs and HCAs don’t form on these foods when grilled.
Buy leaner meats. Reduce the amount of fats that drip onto your coals by eating leaner meats and trimming visible fat and skin off your meats. Yes, we know that’s the best part and adds more flavor, but just do it for your health’s sake.
Marinate your meats. If you want your leaner meats to still be rich in flavor, then marinate them. You can even marinate your fruits and veggies. Science has found that you can cut down on some of those carcinogens found in grilled meats by marinating them because marinade adds moisture that prevents charring. Be sure to buy fat-free or low-fat marinades, and use ingredients like wines, lemon juice, low-sodium soy sauce, honey and garlic for a healthy and flavorful marinade.
Make skewers. More HCAs and PAHs show up the longer your meat spends over the grill, so to eliminate this risk, make skewers that don’t need to cook as long. And make your skewers healthy by using small pieces of fish, scallops and shrimp are great choices, and alternating your meat with peppers, onions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Yum! For even more ways to make grilling season healthier this year, download our Diabetic Grilling Cookbook today!