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Throw a Better BBQ

Throw a Better BBQ

When the summer heat wave hits, it’s time to move cooking outdoors and fire up the grill! Hosting a barbeque doesn’t have to sabotage your plans for healthy eating, however.

Forget the mayo-laden potato salad that’s been soaking up the hot sun for an ambiguous number of hours – E. Coli is not a party favor. Instead, bring bright citrus, tangy homemade marinades and crisp summer vegetables to center stage with these tips for a healthy al fresco meal.

Learn Safe Grilling 101

Current research suggests that grilling protein foods, such as meat, poultry, and fish, can produce cancer-causing substances (also known as carcinogens).  Two of the main culprits: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). But that doesn’t mean that die-hard grillers need to stow away their spatulas for good. There are several ways that you can grill more safely.

Firstly, always make sure to wipe clean your grill before use. This helps to remove any charred debris that may stick to food.

Secondly, keep in mind that grilling vegetables doesn’t create the same harmful compounds.  Arrange vibrant veggies on kebobs for a delicious, no-fuss side dish. Or, showcase vegetables front and center by making light, elegant vegetarian burgers. If you can’t say no to that BBQ chicken, research shows (Smith J.S., 2008) that marinating meat before grilling reduces the amount of HCAs and PAHs that form. Vinegar and lemon based marinades seem to provide a protective shield, and certain spices (in particular, it seems rosemary packs a potent punch) (Puangsombat K., 2010) offer a hefty dose of antioxidants to counteract cancer-causing compounds.

Create your own sauces and marinades

In addition to reducing the formation of carcinogens, making your own sauces and marinades allows you to have complete control over ingredient lists. Many sauces or marinades can be very high in sugar, salt, and additives. Commonly seen preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate are, in fact, not pantry staples. So, creating your own allows you to eliminate these unwanted components. Sauces loaded with sugar, like the store-bought variety, promote browning and charring, so these should only be added in the last few minutes of cooking.

Ditch the Boring Pasta and Potato Salads

Make your barbeque light and bright by highlighting key ingredients. Rather than drowning those beauteous little red bliss potatoes in mayo, create a light dressing made with Dijon mustard and vinegar and add vibrant herbs and spices like chives, scallions, and shallots. The same methodology can be used for coleslaw. By omitting or using less mayo (you can replace half the mayo with Greek yogurt without sacrificing taste, like we did here) you celebrate the best of the ingredients – a crisp crunch, fresh summer herbs, and beautiful color!  You can also revamp the buffet table by fore-going traditional pasta salad and putting the spotlight on some of those all-the-rage ancient grains. Try using farro, barley, quinoa, or buckwheat and tossing your grain of choice with finely chopped summer vegetables.

Keep It Light and Bright at Dessert

While patriotic, the classic flag cake at your July 4th barbeque isn’t the smartest choice for your waistline.  Stick with desserts that are refreshing and easy to execute. Homemade popsicles are incredibly easy and adaptable to your own creative whims. You can make them creamy with Greek yogurt, decadent by using dark chocolate or sweet and bright with frozen berries and 100% fruit juice. Alternatively, for a seemingly sophisticated dessert that is secretly an adult snow-cone in disguise, try this fresh granita recipe. With either choice, your guests will appreciate a meal that celebrates the ingredients of summer!

Puangsombat K., S. J. (2010). Inhibition of heterocyclic amine formation in beef patties by ethanolic extracts of rosemary. Journal of Food Science, 40-47.

Smith J.S., A. F. (2008). Effect of Marinades on the Formation of Heterocyclic Amines in Grilled Beef Steaks. Journal of Food Science, 100-105.

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