Healthy Dinner Ideas from the Grill

The snap and sizzle of meat cooking on a grill and the pungent aroma of zesty sauce combined with warm rays of sunshine make barbecuing a favorite summertime activity.  Unfortunately, research is showing that meats grilled on high heat can be hazardous to the health with the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are known carcinogens.  Here is the good news:  there are ways to make barbecuing healthier this summer.  Check out these tips!

Try a Good Spice Rub:  Certain spices are loaded with antioxidants that can help to counterbalance carcinogens.  One study found that the addition of spices like garlic, sage and thyme can lower the total amount of HCAs by 60%.  Another study found that rosemary may reduce HCAs by up to 90%.

Marinate:  Immerse meats in marinades made of cherries or wine, or serve meat with healthy chutneys.  These are chock full of antioxidants that can offset the dangers of HCAs and PAHs.  But…

Don’t Over-Marinate:  Although a good, long immersion in marinade can certainly bring out flavor, it can tend to be less healthy than a shorter steep.  A study in 2010 found that marinating meat for five hours before baking in the oven diminished the activity of antioxidants in the sauce as compared to shorter marinating periods.  Marinate meat for a few hours at the most, and serve with a side dish of sauce for extra antioxidants!

Keep a Clean Grill:  Purchase a grill brush for cleaning before and after barbecuing.  This prevents the buildup of carcinogens, and the food tastes better!  If you don’t mind the absence of grill marks, you can line your grill with aluminum foil or use an aluminum pan for cooking.

The Less Smoke, the Better:  Meats typically contain some amount of fat which can drip into the flame, create smoke and produce carcinogens.  Lean meats therefore, are healthier in more ways than one, but all meats can generate carcinogens when charred or blackened on a hot grill.

Cook Slow:  Research shows that higher temperatures boost carcinogen levels.  Since HCAs begin to form at 325°F, slowly cook meats below that temperature, but be safe.  Purchase a meat thermometer to make certain that you are cooking at correct temperatures.  For instance, burgers need an internal temperature of 160°F for safe eating.

Try Veggie Dogs and Burgers:  Veggie burgers and hotdogs can offer a similar off-the-grill flavor, but they don’t contain carcinogens.  If you have to have a hot dog made of meat, try white hot dogs (or Bockwurst) which do not contain nitrates.  Remember though, even a Bockwurst hot dog can be dangerous if charred or blackened.

Summer just isn’t summer without a little bit of barbecue – it is one warm-weather activity that almost everyone looks forward to.  This summer, enjoy grilling - take advantage of the tips above for barbecued food that is not only flavorful, but safe!

Sources:
http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20400685_6,00.html
http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/health_articles/myth-or-fact-hot-dogs-cause-cancer
http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/nutrition-101/healthy-grilling-tips-00412000068082/

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