Fire Up The Grill With These Five Tips For Healthy Grilling

Fire Up The Grill With These Five Tips For Healthy Grilling

Learn how to eat healthy this BBQ season with professional dietitian tips for smart grilling.

Published: July 7, 2022

Topics: Nutrition, Wellness

Author: Carolina Schneider, MS, RD

The summer season is here! With that comes a lot of sunshine and time spent outdoors refreshing in the pool and grilling with friends. While it’s a fun time of the year to get together and enjoy barbecue favorites, it’s not always the healthiest of seasons. That’s because barbecues often involve not the healthiest of food choices and overconsumption of red and processed meats (hello, hot dogs), condiments, sauces, and mayo-heavy sides. Plus, grilling meat at high temperatures can produce cancer-causing compounds. As you get ready for the Fourth of July, make sure to follow these dietitian-approved grilling tips to stay healthy while enjoying the barbecue season.

Grill but don’t char

Grilling Chicken Skewers

The process of charring meat produces carcinogens – chemical substances that increase cancer risk. This happens when animal proteins, especially red or processed meats, are grilled at high temperatures. The two main substances are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs form when amino acids, glucose, and creatine react in the presence of fat or cooking oil at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when meats are smoked; when the fat or juices from the meat drip and burn on the grill, causing flames and smoke. Although these cancer-causing compounds will still form, there are a few ways by which they can be reduced, including:

  • Using a gas grill to control the temperature

  • Avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame

  • Cook at a lower temperature for longer

  • Continuously turning the meat over

  • Removing the charred portion of meat before eating

  • Lining the grill with foil perforated with holes

  • Spraying the grill with water to control fatty flare-ups

Choose better-for-you proteins

Grilled Fish

Red and processed meats (bacon, hot dog, etc.) contain a higher content of saturated fat, the type of fat associated with increased cholesterol levels and risk for cardiovascular disease. Healthier protein sources include tofu, fish, seafood, skinless chicken breast, and lean poultry.

Additionally, because PAHs are created from meat fat drippings, choosing proteins with a lower fat content can help reduce them. Incorporating more plant-based protein sources is a great strategy to lower saturated fat consumption while increasing the intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Add a pop of color

Grilled Vegetables

Want to have a truly healthy barbecue? Then it’s time to load up on fruits and vegetables. The easiest way to do that is by filling at least half of your plate with colorful fruits and veggies. Grilling intensifies the flavor of fruits and vegetables, just as it does for meat, but without emitting carcinogenic compounds. Grilled veggies make for a perfect side dish, while grilled fruits make for a tasty, better-for-you dessert choice. By including a variety of colors, boxers will be reaping the benefits of eating the rainbow, which includes improved performance. Here are the best fruits and vegetables to add to your grill this summer:

  • Mushrooms

  • Eggplant

  • Zucchini

  • Bell peppers

  • Onions

  • Potatoes

  • Corn

  • Asparagus

  • Tomato

  • Pineapple

  • Watermelon (yep, you read it right!)

Watch for the salt

Seasoning fish

Marinating or rubbing spices on foods before grilling them is a great way to add flavor without requiring too much salt. Look for ‘healthy marinade’ recipes online or make a simple rub using your favorite spices and herbs. Ingredients that make for a great rub include allspice, oregano, chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, rosemary, thyme, and cinnamon. Another way to reduce the sodium content of your foods is to choose low-salt store-bought marinades and sauces, swap potato chips for raw vegetables, and incorporate more plant-based foods such as tofu, tempeh, and vegetables, which naturally contain a much lower sodium content compared to animal foods.

Eat Intuitively

Grilled healthy plate

At a barbecue, it’s very easy to overeat. Food is served continuously throughout the day, and even if the portions are small, they can add up. When we are distracted mingling with friends and family, we may ‘mindlessly eat’, which means we may eat simply because food is being served rather than because we are hungry. In fact, our bodies have a way of letting us know when we are hungry and when we are full, these are known as ‘hunger cues.’ At a barbecue, we may not listen to these cues and can end up overeating or failing to eat a balanced meal.

There is one simple way to prevent this and that's with the healthy plate method.

The healthy plate method:

  • Fill half of your plate with a variety of vegetables

  • Fill one-fourth of your plate with protein (keeping in mind that one serving is about 4 ounces)

  • Fill one-fourth of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables (brown rice, whole grain bun, sweet potato, potato salad, corn, etc.)

Time To Fire Up The Grill!

Healthy Grilled Food

Barbecues often involve unhealthy foods, a lot of alcohol, and feeling like you need to take a nap because you ate too much. This can be especially harmful to boxers as an unhealthy diet and excessive drinking can lead to poor physical performance in the ring. This summer, it doesn't have to be this way. Boxers can enjoy a backyard party without feeling guilty about the food they eat or going into a food coma. By following these tips, boxers will be able to add a healthy spin to their barbecue while still enjoying the nice weather, good company, and great food… without compromising their health.

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Carolina Schneider, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based nutrition and wellness. She is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and educating individuals on how to eat well for good health.

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