Grilling conjures images plates piled high with fatty meats stuffed into white bread buns. Grilling isn’t always the most healthful way to cook. But using the right grilling techniques can change all that.
No, you don’t need to forego the simple pleasure of outdoor cooking to keep your diet in check. You can create many flavorful, diet-friendly meals on your grill. We’ve got all the information you need to make your next grilling session a health-boosting feast.
Is Grilling Meat Healthy?
Grilling meat can be a great alternative to frying, which requires added oils that increase calories and sometimes introduce unhealthy fats into your meal. However, some research has raised questions as to whether or not cooking over an open flame is safe.
Meats contain an acid called creatine. When, in scientific studies, the creatine in meat is exposed to high temperatures (like that of a grill), a chemical reaction takes place and turns the creatine into a group of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Scientific research has established that HCAs and PAHs are carcinogenic.
But it’s important to note that this research has been conducted under conditions that didn’t resemble the exposure an average human gets from eating grilled meat. Studies that have linked HCAs to cancer have been performed on rats exposed to very high doses of HCAs and PAHs. (Remember: Rate are much smaller than people!)
Even if you ate grilled meat frequently, it’s unlikely you’d experience negative side effects. There are also several simple steps you can take to minimize your exposure to these carcinogenic agents.
How to Make Grilling Meat Healthier
A few ways to reduce your exposure to HCAs and PAHs while grilling:
- Pre-cook your meat. Reducing the meat’s exposure to a hot grill can reduce the presence of carcinogens. A study printed in the Harvard Health Letter suggests you can reduce the level of HCAs and PAHs by 90 percent if you pre-cook your meat in the microwave for two minutes and then simply finish on the grill for flavor and texture.
- Line the grill with foil perforated with holes. PAHs are created when fat drips and burns on the hot coals below. The resulting smoke contains PAHs.
- Marinate your meat. According to the Harvard Health Blog, marinating food before cooking limits the formation of potential carcinogens caused by grilling.
- Use herbs and spices. Herbs contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can counteract some of the carcinogenic effects of grilling.
The grill is also a great place to cook your veggies. Vegetables won’t create carcinogenic compounds when put on the grill. In fact, some veggies, such as tomatoes and red peppers, become more nutrient dense after being cooked.
So instead of a high-calorie, low-nutrient side dish like potato salad from the deli counter, try our recipe for grilled veggie kabobs.
Grilled Veggie Kabobs
- 1 zucchini cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 red peppers cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 green peppers cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 red onion cut into 1-inch chunks
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons of your favorite spice blend
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- Preheat grill at medium heat and lightly oil the grate.
- Thread zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes onto 6 skewers.
- Whisk olive oil and the spice blend together.
- Brush the mixture over vegetables.
- Cook skewers on preheated grill for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Occasionally turn skewers and baste vegetables with olive oil mixture.
- When the veggies are tender, remove from heat.
Think Outside the Bun
Many of the traditional grilling meats aren’t healthy choices. Highly processed sausages, hot dogs, and burgers often contain undesirable additives and unhealthy fats. Instead, make more nutritious choices like organic sausages made from poultry, burgers made from grass-fed beef, and omega-3 rich fatty fish like tuna.
The buns and bread used for grilled meats could use an upgrade, too! Buy whole grain buns or skip the bun altogether. There are many high fiber wraps and pitas available at major markets. Better yet, you can put your freshly grilled entree onto a bed of fresh greens and enjoy a delicious salad.
Finish off your cookout with something sweet – grilled fruit. Pineapple, stone fruits and even bananas can be grilled up quickly as a tasty and healthy dessert. Here are some recipes to get you started:
So if you’re looking for a healthy way to express your culinary creativity, step outside the kitchen and get in front of the grill. Grilling is an easy-to-clean cooking method perfect for entertaining or a fast weeknight meal. A few simple changes will turn your dull and unhealthy cookout fare into a delightfully healthy feast.