Benefits of Grilling

Grilling FoodsStacey Newsletter PicPost Submitted by Stacey Brouk, MS, RD, LD

Did you know that July is celebrated as grilling month? Well, it’s July, so get your grill ready!

You can make LOTS of healthy, delicious meals on the grill. When you grill something, your food doesn’t have a batter coating and it won’t be dripping grease, which can save you lots of calories and help you reach your weight loss goals. Who doesn’t love that? Keep in mind that just because you’re grilling and SOME of the fat contained in the food will be dripped off during cooking doesn’t mean you should choose high-fat items. You still want to make healthy choices for what you grill. Therefore, stick to the old rule of thumb to choose lean meats and remove any visible fat or skins.

Are you worried that you will end up with a dried out piece of chicken if you cook it on the grill? While this can happen, you can significantly reduce the chances by marinating your chicken before grilling it. There are pre-bottled marinades you can get in the grocery store or you can come up with a creative mixture of ingredients to make your own signature marinade. Some popular ingredients used in homemade marinades include lemon juice, lime juice, soy sauce, vinegar, wines, garlic, herbs and spices. Be sure to avoid using too much oil in order to keep the added calories and fat low. If you’re choosing a store bought marinade, check out the label to make sure it’s not going to give you an excessive amount of sugar or fat that you don’t really want!

To round out your meal a bit, throw in some veggies. Have you ever tried grilling your vegetables? If not, I challenge you to try it. Some great veggies for grilling are tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and zucchini. During the summer months, it is rare for me to go more than a week without having grilled bell peppers and onions. Just slice them up, put just a drizzle of fat-free Italian dressing on them and cook them in foil or on a pan on the grill. Yum! Fruits are great on the grill, too. Try pineapple, apples, peaches or watermelon. For a fun spin on things, make kabobs with your favorite veggies, fruits and lean proteins.

Even though there are all sorts of good reasons to fire up the grill, there can be a downside if you aren’t grilling properly. What I’m referring to are the potentially cancer-causing compounds that can form on your food when you grill. These are known as heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s).  While it sounds scary, there are plenty of ways to reduce your exposure to such compounds, so you don’t have to worry about getting cancer from grilling your foods. Marinating foods before grilling helps reduce formation of HCA’s by more than 90%, so marinate, marinate, marinate! Avoid charring your foods. Flipping your foods frequently helps reduce the formation of HCA’s as well. Choose lean foods (which you should be doing anyway) so there is less grease dripping into the bottom of the grill, which reduces the amount of flame-ups and smoke, reducing the PAH’s that ultimately get into your food.

Grilling is a fun way to make meals during these beautiful warm months. You can certainly make healthy meals on the grill – it’s not just for hamburgers, bratwursts and hot dogs, after all! So go marinate some chicken, chop up some veggies and throw them on the grill for a delicious, nutritious meal tonight!