Memorial Day is Monday, May 30 – a time to honor our fallen heroes. For many of us, Memorial Day means a barbecue surrounded by family and friends, and the day certainly marks an unofficial start to the summer grilling season.
From delicious smoky flavors to zesty marinades, it’s no wonder the mere mention of grilling makes our mouths water. We generally think of grilled foods as healthy – after all, grilling allows fats to drip away and the lack of breading makes it a better choice when compared to fried foods.
At the same time, making good choices about how you grill can make all the difference in how healthy your meal actually is. Unfortunately, many of us gravitate toward high-fat meats, sausages, and other processed products, which can contribute to poor cardiovascular health and may be laden with preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients.
In addition, food scientists are finding that cancer-causing compounds can form in the grilling process – namely polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs form when fat drips off meat onto the heat source. Rising smoke then deposits PAHs back onto meat. HCAs emerge when any meat is cooked at high heat, as in grilling and broiling.
To optimize the health benefits of grilling, and to minimize these pitfalls, follow these recommendations:
- Fruit and Veggie Up. Adding more plants to your grill offers myriad benefits. We all need to amp up our fruit and veggie intake, and filling up on these lets you enjoy great grilled flavor in health. Unlike meats, fruits and vegetables do not form cancer-causing PAHs and HCAs on the grill.
- Go Lean with Meats. Many sausages and other highly processed meats are bad for you no matter how they are cooked. Choosing lower fat meats also limits how much fat drips on coals, which in turn can reduce cancer-causing compounds in your grilled fare.
- Some studies have shown that marinating can reduce PAHs and HCAs in grilled meats by up to 99%. Choose recipes that are light on healthy oils and flavor up with lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spics.
- Reduce Grilling Time. Try cutting meat into smaller pieces that cook quickly on kebabs, or prepare larger cuts in the oven and finish off on the grill.
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