Tips for a Healthier BBQ

With the warmer weather finally settling in, it’s the perfect time to invite friends and family over for a backyard barbecue! But hosting a barbecue doesn’t need to get in the way of your healthy eating habits. Follow these easy tips to make your BBQ a healthy success:

Image by Seha BS - Creative Commons license

Image by Seha BS – Creative Commons license

Avoid processed meats. Processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, and bacon contain added nitrites in the form of the food additive, sodium nitrite. Nitrites themselves are not harmful, but under certain circumstances can turn into nitrosamines, which have carcinogenic properties and are believed to increase your risk of pancreatic, stomach and colon cancers. Significant levels can be found in processed meats because nitrosamines are produced when nitrites and amines (building block of proteins) combine in acidic places (stomach) or are formed at high temperatures (cooking). Nitrites formed from plant foods, however, have not been shown to produce significant amounts of nitrosamine due to their high phytochemical content.

Go Lean. Meats are great sources of protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. But it’s important to choose lean meats instead of those high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are your leanest poultry choices. For beef and pork, look for “loin” and “round” cuts of meat. If you’re craving a burger, make your patties with ground turkey, or the leanest ground beef available, labeled at least 90% lean. While these choices have the least amount of fat, don’t forget to trim any excess fat when you get home.

Practice Healthier Grilling Techniques. Although a classic tradition, extra char and smoke are not the signs of a healthy BBQ! Exposing protein-rich meat, beef, pork, fish, and poultry to high heat and open flames can cause chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form, which can be carcinogenic. You can reduce the formation of these compounds several ways: Wrap meats in foil or line the grill with foil perforated with holes -this technique reduces the meat’s exposure to smoke and the formation of PAHs. Also, cook for longer at a lower temperature (flipping often) –  to help avoid charring and the production of HCAs. Finally, use a marinade – marinades act as a barrier and can protect meat from smoke. Marinades prepared with herbs and spices contain antioxidants that can also reduce the formation of HCAs.

Photo by Michaela Simoncini - Creative Commons license

Photo by Michaela Simoncini – Creative Commons license

Think Beyond Meat. Fruits and veggies are always great choices at a barbecue. The grilling intensifies their flavors and caramelizes their natural sugars. Try grilling thickly sliced fruits and veggies for desserts and side dishes. Or skip the meat entirely and grill up some veggie burgers using thick cut eggplants or whole portobello mushrooms. Eggplants and mushrooms are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they’re low in calories! Plus, they’re also safer choices than meat when it comes to reducing your exposure to HCAs and PAHs because these compounds form in muscle proteins, not plants.

Rethink your drink. Don’t forget to stay hydrated!  Water is an essential nutrient that your body needs to function normally and prevent dehydration.  Drinks like soda, juice, sweetened iced tea, and lemonade are loaded with sugar and empty calories. Instead, consider drinking water and other healthier options.  Try making your own naturally flavored waters using different combinations of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  These drinks are refreshing and very easy to make.  Plus, they look great too!  Check out this link to Nutrition Stripped for some simple infused water recipes.

Ice Water - licensed by Creative Commons

Ice Water – licensed by Creative Commons

-Jiyoung

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