Healthy Barbecues: How to Pull it Off!

Healthy BarbecuesWe are finally in full summer swing. Of course, this time of year is noted for sizzling grilled burgers, brats, and hotdogs. Grilling can be a great way to entertain and not heat up the house on a hot summer day. It keeps overall calories low because there are no cream sauces or excessive amounts of fats added to the meats. However, the high smoke and heat of grilling has it’s own dietary pitfalls. But, by following some simple steps, we can still pull off healthy barbecues. According to a new report noted by American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), the goal is to prevent the heat and smoke produced in grilling to affect the food. The heat and smoke of grilling can cause cancer causing compounds to form on the food. By tweaking our grilling habits, it’s still very easy to pull off healthy barbecues.

According to the AICR, here are easy steps for pulling off a healthy barbecue

  • Vary your meat selection. Too much red meat (beef, pork, lamb) increases your risk for colorectal cancer. “Too much” is defined as more than 18 oz. per week and this applies to all red meats regardless of cooking method.
  • Always marinate. Cooking any meat on the grill causes the formation of cancer causing compounds. Marinating meat for 30 minutes reduces the formation of these cancer causing compounds. Using marinades with vinegar, lemon juice, and wine along with oils, spices, and herbs seems pretty key to a healthy barbecue.
  • Partially precook. By doing some cooking prep ahead of time, there is less time for cancer causing compounds to form from the smoke.The likelihood of cancer causing compounds forming with grilling decreases as grill time decreases.
  • Food safety reminder: get that partially cooked meat on the grill to start grilling immediately after the precooking. Otherwise, you run the risk of bacteria growing on the raw part of the meat.
  • Use a low flame. Lower heat will reduce cancer causing compounds by reducing the possibility of charring and burning.
  • Get colored foods on the grill. Try some grilled corn, sweet potatoes, or zucchini. Start adding color to your grilled menu with the fruit kabob recipe below.

More tips for healthy barbecues

  • Always wash your hands before handling food. Don’t handle raw meat and then handle something like raw vegetables that will be served uncooked.
  • Wash produce as well. Fruits and vegetables are a source of bacteria. Here are 7 tips for cleaning your produce.
  • You should consider using smaller cuts of white meats. By decreasing your portion of meat while increasing your fruits and vegetables (grilled or as a side), you are automatically providing for healthier barbecue menus. Charred sections should be removed before serving.
  • Invest in a good quality thermometer so that you can check the internal food temperatures of your grilled foods. This is key to keeping your family and guests free of food poisoning. Internal temperatures for properly cooked foods vary, so be sure to check the guidelines.
  • Separate your plates and cutting board to prevent bacteria cross-contamination. Do not reuse utensils, plates, or cutting boards that had raw meat on them.
  • After the food is grilled, do not let it sit out on a hot day for more than 1-hour. If it’s not an excessively hot day, then you have up to 2-hours. It’s never worth eating foods  handled incorrectly, as you could end up with food poisoning. And for some, that means a trip to the ER or worse.

Recipes to help you start your healthy barbecues

healthy bareques should add mango lime salsa

Mango lime salsa on lettuce leaves.

Try grilling some salmon or chicken and top with this mango lime salsa. My client provided the recipe and photo, and noted how delicious it was. She kindly calculated the calorie content as well (she’s a good student too)! Thank you Marie!

Mango Lime Salsa-makes 2 cups; prep time about 30 minutes; 50 calories per 1/2 cup serving

1 small red onion diced small
1/2 red pepper 1/4 inch dice
1 jalapeño (or to taste)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 large limes)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 mangos peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
salt & pepper to taste

In medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. The salsa will keep 2 days in the refrigerator. Serve with baked tortilla chips, or over any grilled fish or chicken. You can also top lettuce leaves with salsa and serve as a side dish.

Next, for a great healthy side and alternative to fatty side dishes such as creamy potato salad, try grilled fruit kabob to give that splash of color to your barbecue meal.

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
juice from 1 fresh lime and lime rind
1 tsp. cinnamon

In a small bowl, stir together melted butter, brown sugar, grated lime rind, lime juice, and cinnamon until the sugar is dissolved. Use any fresh fruit cut into one-inch pieces such as pineapple, apples, nectarines, melon, bananas, or large whole strawberries. Thread the fruit alternately onto metal skewers. Brush kabobs with butter mixture and place on barbecue grill. Grill for 6-8 minutes, turning frequently and brushing generously with butter mixture until the fruit starts to brown and is heated through.

Happy and healthy barbecue grilling

Enjoy your smaller servings of white meats more than red. Always marinate your meats and precook them prior to grilling to minimize charring and prevent cancer risk. Grill your meats to the proper temperatures for the best juiciness and thorough cooking to prevent food poisoning. Once grilled meats are cooked, serve hot and then refrigerate within 1-2 hours, depending on how hot the day is.

Make sure you keep all utensils, cutting boards, plates and work surfaces in touch with raw meats separate from other foods. You are trying to avoid food poisoning!

Last, but not least, add as many grilled fruits and vegetables (or raw) to your menu as possible. This will always increase the nutritional quality of any menu.

And, add a beer? Check out some of those health benefits here.

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