Healthy Grilling – Hold the Char

Healthy Grilling FoodsWhether it’s burgers and dogs, a juicy steak or tender chicken that’s been marinating all day, everyone loves a good cookout.  However, that charbroiled goodness might come at a cost to your health.

A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois, found that cooking methods that produce crust on food, such as grilling, pan-frying or baking on high heat, may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is associated with diabetes.

The high temperature cooking methods that make crust form on food – such as the bits of charred meat on a burger – also create advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are linked to plaque formation in the arteries and result in long-term physical damage. This has greater implications for people with diabetes because they are already struggling with cardiovascular issues.

Grilling (particularly charring) of meat also forms heterocyclic amines (HCAs).  HCAs are formed when amino acids and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react at high cooking temperatures.  Some HCAs are known carcinogens.  Another study from the University of Minnesota, found that eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60%.

So, what’s a person to do during the glorious grilling season?  Consider using a lower temperature setting on your grill to eliminate charring.  Season your grill prior to each use with Canola oil.  Canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids that are heart healthy.  The oil will help eliminate charring and meat won’t stick to the grill.  Plus, omega 3’s can help lower cholesterol and maintain your heart health, so you can still enjoy the summer BBQ.

Consider grilling fruits and vegetables.  The benefits are many – from reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke to helping you maintain a healthy weight.  Plus, the dangerous, potentially cancer causing HCAs don’t form on fruits and veggies.   Brush canola oil on lightly to prevent sticking.  A non-stick grate or grilling basket can be useful, but foil coated with oil works just as well.  Don’t peel veggies prior to grilling.  You’ll get more nutrients and enjoy a smokier flavor.  If you’re grilling corn, keep the husk on as an insulator that will keep the steam in and prevent the corn from drying out.

In general, fruits do not need to be peeled prior to grilling.  Ideal grilling fruits are firm and barely ripe. Watermelon, pineapple, apples, peaches and pears all work well. You can even drizzle them with a bit of honey for added flavor.

You don’t have to give up the grill just yet.  But be smart about it – grill smaller portions, flip frequently and avoid the char.