National Grilling Month: Tips for healthier grilling this July and beyond

National Grilling Month

Who’s ready for some zesty barbecue that represents the best of summer fare? According to Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Senior Nutritionist and Nutrition Clinic Coordinator Nancy Oliveira, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, grilling can be a healthy, quick and delicious cooking method, but we should be mindful that an excess intake of charred meats can expose one to potentially harmful compounds.

“When grilled or blackened, animal protein foods including beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish and shellfish can create compounds called heterocyclic amines or HCAs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs,” says Oliveira. “A high intake of HCAs and PAHs has been linked to certain cancers. Specific components in meat may increase the risk of compounds forming: high amounts of fat, preservatives like nitrates (in processed meats like sausages and hot dogs) and a type of iron from animal foods called heme. In addition, when the fat from rich cuts of meat and seafood drips into the flames, it produces smoke that contains PAHs, which then adheres to the surface of these foods.”

While it might sound scary, Oliveira says there are ways to make sure grilled foods are safe. Before you break out the barbie this season, she offers some simple grilling tips to provide a nutritious and safe meal for your family:

  1. Brush on a marinade that provides a protective barrier to help reduce the amount of carcinogens produced. A marinade can include any of the following (or try mixing together several of the ingredients): olive oil, mustard, reduced-sodium soy sauce, any vinegar, lemon or orange juice and herbs and spices like garlic, pepper, rosemary and thyme.
  2. Reduce the overall grill cook time. Fish and thin cuts of meat cook quickly. Cut poultry and meat into small chunks for kebobs. Meat may also be partially precooked in the microwave to reduce grill time.
  3. Flip food several times when grilling to prevent over-charring.
  4. Remove charred parts of meat or fish before eating. Wrap food in foil before grilling, which can speed cooking time and protect it from smoke.
  5. Include foods that will not produce harmful compounds such as fruits, vegetables, tempeh and veggie burgers. Try asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, eggplants, onions, Portobello mushrooms, peaches and mangoes brushed with a little olive oil. They also add beautiful color to the plate!
  6. Use hardwood chips like hickory and maple that burn at a lower temperature, instead of softer woods like pine and fir that produce high temperatures.
  7. Avoid breathing in smoke produced from the grill.
  8. Clean grill well between uses.

Want to learn more about healthy eating? Contact Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Nutrition Clinic at 617-983-4455 to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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