Nothing says “summer” like a barbecue, but the traditional barbecues we remember from our childhood in which dad singed his eyebrows when the flames leapt three feet into the air are not exactly best for our health. Grilling meat or fish over high heat produces carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to increased risk of various cancers. In addition, many typical foods for grilling can be high in fat and calories, while being poor in nutrients. Following are some tips on how you can enjoy healthy grilling all summer long.
Clean the grill. You don’t want to incorporate rancid grease and the charred buildup from previous barbecues into your meat before you’ve even begun cooking it. Use a sturdy wire scrub brush and warm soapy water to scrape any charred residue from the grill’s surface, both before and after you grill. This will also greatly improve the flavor of your food!
Use a low flame and cook briefly. When direct flames touch the meat it can add to the HCAs produced. To reduce these, keep the gas flame low or if using charcoal wait until the coals have been reduced to glowing embers. The heat will still be sufficient, but will not be as likely to char the meat. Try not to overcook your food, as overdone meat has more HCAs. Discard any charred parts.
Flip burgers often. To reduce your chance of contracting E. coli from ground beef, flip your burgers every 30 seconds or so. The USDA advises that you cook burgers to an internal temperature of at least 160°F to kill any possible bacteria. However, if you are someone who thinks that a burger cooked further than anything but medium-rare is a travesty, buy a cut of beef and grind it yourself just before grilling, or if it is commercially prepared, be sure to flip them often. A study found that when two burgers were cooked to the same temperature, the one flipped more often had a fifth of the E. coli.
Pre-treat your meat. To allow you to cook your meat for a shorter time while still retaining flavor and tenderness, consider marinating it first. A marinade will tenderize the meat, and by using some flavorful spices in the marinade or in a dry rub, you can add a host of antioxidants to your meal that will reduce the production of HCAs. Researchers from Kansas State University found that marinating meat reduced carcinogens by 57 to 88 percent. Red wine, ginger, turmeric, rosemary and garlic are among the cancer-fighting ingredients you can include in a marinade. And by combining two parts onion, two parts garlic and one part lemon juice in your marinade, you can reduce HCAs by 70%, as some researchers in Germany have found.
Choose healthier meat. Grass-fed organic meat is a far healthier choice. In comparison with conventionally raised meat, organic grass-fed beef and chicken, for example, is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in omega-3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and abdominal fat. It is also free from hormones and antibiotics.
Go veggie. Though meat is decidedly tasty, grilled vegetables are delicious too, and vegetarian versions of burgers and hot dogs have come a long way from their early roots, when they had the flavor of pressed wood. There are now a host of excellent veggie “meats” available. And there is nothing quite like grilled red peppers, tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini and onions. A good way to grill veggies is to cut them up into small chunks and put them on skewers. You’ll get a healthy serving of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in each bite. And topping your burger with some slices of avocado will not only be tasty, its mono and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to reduce cholesterol and can be a good substitute for mayonnaise.