Published On: Tue, Sep 20th, 2016

How grilled food can help you stay healthy

We all know that grilling is definitely healthier than most cooking methods because it isn’t necessary to add any fats to your meat in order to cook it. In fact, it does the exact opposite – it reduces the fat in the meat while it cooks. Now, that isn’t to say that all foods cooked on a grill are healthy or good for you. After all, some of us prefer the fatty cuts of meat like marbled rib eye and ham. Even hotdogs and sausages, which are delicious when cooked on the barbie, aren’t part of a healthy diet. But it is safe to say that grilling is still one of the best ways to cook healthy foods without sacrificing taste. Have you ever met a well-cooked barbecue you didn’t like? I certainly haven’t.

photo/Paul Keller, Flickr

photo/Paul Keller, Flickr

But what about the tons of debate about grilling and health? According to research compiled by the National Cancer Institute,  grilling produces two compounds that could potentially increase cancer risks  – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heterocyclic amines (HCA). PAHs form when the fat and juices from grilling meat over an open fire which is then deposited on the meat from the flare-up and smoke. HCAs, on the other hand, form when meat is cooked at high temperatures.

Ok, so does that mean that grilling isn’t healthy after all?  Actually, it doesn’t. There’s no definitive link between grilling and cancer in humans. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the research altogether. So what should you do? Well, if you love grilling (and we know you do), then simply take up some healthy grilling practices to so you can keep grilling without guilt. We compiled several of them to help you get started.

Grilling Made Healthy:

#1: Marinating is key. Numerous studies have confirmed that marinades decrease the amount of PAHs and HCAs found in grilled meat. There are several possible reasons for this. One is the fact that the moisture from the marinade provides a protective barrier around the meat, preventing a lot of the smoke (which carries the PAH) from sticking to the surface of the meat. Another possible reason is that the antioxidants in some of the spices used in the marinade (i.e. rosemary, garlic, onion, honey) stops the formation of HCA. Alcohol in your marinade, like red wine and beer, will not only reduce the risk of HCA formation, it’ll make your meat taste great!

#2: Grill leaner cuts of meat. Healthy grilling doesn’t mean you have to cut out meat altogether. We wouldn’t dare ask that of you. But you can opt to grill leaner cuts of meat. This not only lowers your fat intake but also the amount of PAH in your smoke. When you limit the amount of fat that drips from your meat to your fire, you lessen flare-ups and the formation of PAH-filled smoke. And we already know these two are bad for you.

#3: Grill veggies and fruits. There’s absolutely no question that veggies and fruits are good for you so you should definitely include them in your diet. But did you know that grilling is the best way to retain the vitamins and minerals inside vegetables? It also doesn’t hurt that the amount of water inside most vegetables make them perfect for the grill because they don’t dry out despite getting cooked over high heat. There are actually loads of recipes for grilled veggies and fruits that are simply mouthwatering – kebabs, smoked tofu tacos, grilled peaches, herb garden pizza, and chipotle black bean burgers are just some of the tasty ones we’ve tried.

#4: Get rid of the char. We know that char can taste so good when done right. But based on research, it just isn’t good for you.

#5: Don’t grill too long. The longer your food stays on the grill, the longer it is exposed to high heat, smoke, and flames. This means that there’s a bigger chance that the carcinogens will form and get on your food. It’s recommended that you stick with meat that cooks quick like fish or cut down your chicken, beef, and pork into smaller pieces which enables you to cook them in a shorter period of time. Another tip is to microwave the meat first to start the cooking process which shortens the amount of grill time. According to some studies, doing so enables you to get rid of 90% of HCAs.

Like I said before, there’s no reason to give up grilling especially if you love it. Simply follow these tips to ensure a healthy cookout. Grill safe, everyone!

Guest Author: Sophia Moore

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- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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