Now that summer is (finally!) here, many of us will be enjoying outdoor barbecues and cookouts with friends and family. The staple fare at many of these barbecues and cookouts includes burgers, hot dogs, chicken and other meats, and a summer favorite – corn!
While grilling, compared to deep frying, is certainly a healthier form of cooking, there are a few potential health risks that should be kept in mind.
1) The choice of meat. Some meats tend to be higher in total and saturated fats, and although the fat adds flavor and tenderness, it can contribute to increased cholesterol levels. If you do like a good grilled steak or burger, try to select leaner options and marinate the meat prior to cooking in order to retain the tenderness without added fat.
Some grill-favorite meats, particularly hot dogs, also contain preservatives such as nitrites. Excess intake of nitrites from processed meats has been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers such as colon cancer, so it is best to limit these in your diet. You can still enjoy a hot dog during summer – just try to buy nitrate-free brands as much as possible!
2) PAHs and HCAs. These are abbreviations for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) which are compounds formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures and when the fats from the meat drip onto the heating element (coals or grill). PAHs and HCAs have been associated with an increased risk of cancer, so minimizing their production during cooking, as well as limiting them in your diet, is most prudent.
If you are despairing at the thought of having to give up grilling this summer – fear not! There are several things you can do to make grilling healthier and safer!
1) Trim excess fats from meats and poultry. This minimizes the amount of fat that can drip onto heated elements.
2) Use aluminum foil to separate meat and poultry from direct contact with heated elements and open flames.
3) Marinate! Using a vinegar-based marinade may help to reduce the production of PAHs and HCAs. You can buy a bottled variety or make your own.
4) Shorten cooking time. Skewer your meats/poultry as smaller pieces cook faster, and remember to flip the meat during the cooking process.
5) Trim off any burnt/charred pieces as these parts are higher in PAH’s and HCA’s
Grill fruit and vegetables! PAH’s and HCA’s are not formed in produce, so enjoy a variety of these on your grill. Try grilled
6) Zucchini, corn, carrots, eggplant, romaine, or even some pineapple and watermelon for a fantastic medley of flavors! Fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants, which can help to counter oxidative damage and help maintain healthy cells and DNA.
Don’t give up on the grill this summer … just grill smarter and safer!
Looking for a recipe using low-fat meat and grilled fruits? Try this Lime Chicken with Grilled Pineapple/Mango salsa inspired by Recipe Runner!
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded into equal thickness
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Several dashes of hot sauce
GRILLED PINEAPPLE MANGO SALSA:
1 ripe mango, flesh cut from the pit in large flat slices
1 small fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced into rings or wedges
1/4 cup diced red onion
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
GRILLING PINEAPPLES & MANGOS
Preheat grill to medium-high heat and brush or spray the grates with oil.
Brush the slices of pineapple and mango with oil to prevent them from sticking to the grill grates.
When the grill is ready place the sliced pineapple and mango on the grates (flesh side down for the mango).
Grill the pineapple for approximately 3-5 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the slices or until nice grill marks form.
Grill the mango for approximately 3 minutes total or until nice grill marks form.
Remove the fruit from the grill and let it cool until it can be handled.
Cut the mango into slices then remove the skin and cut the flesh into small chunks.
Cut the pineapple into small chunks.
Place all ingredients for the salsa into a serving bowl and toss together.
Serve on top or alongside the chicken.
Combine all ingredients for the chicken marinade in a measuring glass and whisk together.
Place the chicken breasts in a gallon-size freezer bag and pour the marinade over them.
Press the air out of the bag, seal it and massage the marinade into the chicken.
Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and brush or spray the grates with oil.
Place the chicken on the grill at the same time you grill the pineapple and mango.
Grill the chicken for approximately 4-8 minutes depending on the thickness, then flip over and grill for another 4-8 minutes or until cooked all the way through.