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Grill The Healthy Way

By Kim Allison
Posted on 21 Oct, 2015

Grill The Healthy Way
There's something about the act of grilling that just makes food look and taste fantastic; the smoky flavor, the fun marinade flavors, the grill lines that form on the food, the fresh taste that comes from cooking something over high heat for a short amount of time.

Grilling is not only one of the tastiest ways to eat food, but an easy way to make a healthy meal. Unlike fried foods, there's no batter coating or dripping grease. One of the big downsides however is that grilling exposes your food to a couple of potentially cancer-causing compounds: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

PAHs form when fat from the meat drips onto the hot coals or grill element. They're then deposited on the food courtesy of flame-ups and rising smoke. Unfortunately, that yummy charring that forms on meat can contain PAHs as well. HCAs, meanwhile, are produced when red meat, poultry and fish meet high-heat cooking, like grilling or broiling.

For a more healthful meal, here are some things you should do before you fire up your grill the next time.


Pick The Right Proteins

Many Americans end up eating very high-fat meats and sausages when they fire up the barbie -- pumping yet more calories, fat and cholesterol into their diets. By choosing unprocessed, naturally fed meat, however, you will be providing your body with nutrients crucial good health. Alternatively, you can also grill fish.


Meatless Grilling

Vegetables make an excellent, nutritious side dish for any meal, and when they're grilled, they are even better! Certain vegetables do better if they are briefly cooked before being placed on the grill. For example, precook firm veggies, like asparagus and carrots, for about three to five minutes in a saucepan of simmering water.

And for quicker, more even cooking, cut things like eggplant, onions, and zucchini into strips or rounds rather than chunks.

But here's the best part: PAHs and HCAs don't form on grilled fruits and vegetables.


Grill Smart, Grill Lean

When you're grilling meat, limit the amount of fat that drips on the coals by starting with lean cuts trimmed of visible fat and skin. If you put a very lean cut of beef or pork, or skinless chicken, onto the grill, you're off to a healthy start.



The simple act of marinating before grilling has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs by as much as 92% to 99% in some studies. This is because the marinade limits the fat that drips onto the coals.
Marinating Tip: Don't baste your food during grilling with the liquid the meat was marinating in (this passes raw meat juices to your cooked meat). Before you add the meat, set aside some of your marinade for this purpose.


Add Spices

Certain spices are packed with antioxidants that will help to eliminate HCAs in the grilling process. One study showed that adding spices such as thyme, sage, and garlic can reduce the amount of total HCAs by 60% compared to the control.

Rosemary may be especially potent. A recent study found that high concentrations of rosemary extracts may reduce HCAs by up to 90% in some cases.


Cut Down On Grilling Time

Grill smaller portions of meat, poultry, and fish so they cook faster and spend less time on the grill. Another trick is to precook the meat, fish, and poultry in the oven or microwave, then finish cooking on the grill.


Flip Often

Flipping food frequently may help prevent the formation of HCAs, according to recent research using hamburger patties. To turn meat without piercing it (which releases juices that drip onto the coals), use tongs or spatulas instead of a fork.


Add Red Wine

According to a study by the University of Porto in Portugal, marinating meat in red wine helps decrease carcinogens by almost 40%.


Skewer It

A fun way to cut down on grilling time is to thread small pieces of meat or fish on a skewer. Scallops and shrimp are naturals for skewers, too. I like to alternate pieces of meat, chicken, or seafood with bell pepper and onion pieces, zucchini slices, cherry tomatoes, and/or small mushrooms.

Don't have skewers? Use branches of rosemary as skewers. They infuse a hint of rosemary into the food as it cooks -- not to mention the beautiful presentation it makes.


Rethink The Bun

Grilling is almost always synonymous with buns, but they are totally not necessary! If you'll be grilling something like hotdogs or hamburgers, try skipping the bun and serving extra (veggie-loaded) toppings instead. You'll save 150+ calories!


Try Fruit for Dessert

Grilled fruit makes an excellent, healthy dessert! Try grilling fruits like ripe mango with a sprinkle of lime juice and mint or kebabs with strawberries and bananas served with a (little!) scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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