How to Have a Healthier BBQ?
The weather is turning warm and our family is planning a couple of BBQs. What do you think?
Like you, I love grilling food outdoors when the weather turns warm (fish and vegetables are a favorite). However, while this form of cooking is fine for special occasions, it actually isn't the healthiest way of eating. For starters, the typical American barbecue usually features meat dishes and skimps on vegetables and whole grains. Research has also shown that high-temperature grilling or broiling of foods that contain fat and protein -- favorites include hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken -- leads to the production of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HAs). HAs can raise the risk of colo-rectal cancer in those with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
To reduce the amount of HAs, you can precook meats and finish them off on the grill to get that barbecued flavor -- less time on the grill means less carcinogens on your meats. Choosing leaner cuts also reduces carcinogens because oils and fats often spark smoke fires (again, smoke is full of cancer-causing substances). And keep in mind that researchers have found that marinating meats (particularly chicken) may help reduce HA levels. One study found that marinating chicken before grilling reduced HA levels by 90 percent.
You should also follow these barbecuing tips from the American Cancer Society:
Cook the meat thoroughly -- but not so much that pieces are charred and black.
Keep the portions small and lean.
Trim away any excess fat.
Try pre-cooking the meat in the oven or on the stove ahead of time, and finish it up on the grill.
Think of meat as a side dish instead of the main course.
Enjoy grilled meats with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Don't eat any charred or blackened parts.
In addition, you should never use popular charcoal-lighting fluid or those self-lighting packages of charcoal -- both put residues from toxic chemicals onto food. I always use a "chimney lighter" that you put a small amount of newspaper into and then light under the coals.
I've noticed the trend toward more gourmet barbecuing -- using mesquite briquettes, for instance. Mesquite briquettes are not a wise choice -- they also produce carcinogens, and their growing popularity is contributing to the decimation of the mesquite forests in the Southwest.
And finally, if you do decide to fire up the barbecue this weekend, don't forget the veggies -- try my recipe for grilled vegetables.