How to make grilling safe and healthy

Woman cooking vegetables on barbecue grill outdoors, closeup

To many people, grilling often seems like it makes everything taste better. But how can you make it not only taste great, but be good for you?

WellTuned spoke with Janet Seiber, a registered dietitian with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to find out.

Grilling is a great way to prepare food that’s healthier than frying it in a pan with fat,” Janet explains. “It also adds nice flavor to your food. And, grilling gets you outside, which can be a great stress reliever and good for your mental health.”

How to make grilling healthy

Janet Seiber: Choose a healthy protein and make sure the portion size is right for you. Some options include chicken (with the skin removed), fish, turkey, and tofu. Shrimp is a low-fat source of protein that tastes great grilled. You can also grill pork loin and beef. Make sure to look for “round” or “choice” cuts of red meat and lean ground beef for burgers. Limit yourself to an occasional hot dog or Italian sausage. These processed meats tend to be higher in fat and sodium.

Don’t limit yourself to protein. Consider adding fruit and vegetables to the grill:

  • Stone fruit like peaches, apricots and pears
  • Pineapple slices
  • Melon
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Asparagus
  • Ears of corn

Practice safety when grilling

Janet Seiber: A key to safe grilling is taking steps to avoid cross-contamination. Don’t use the same utensils and plates for raw food and the cooked food after grilling. You might accidentally spread bacteria. Wash your hands after handling raw meat. Also, don’t reuse marinades on cooked meat that had contact with raw meat.

Other tips for safe grilling:

  • Use a meat thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the proper temperature. This helps you avoid undercooking, which can increase your risk for food-borne illness.
  • Avoid charring meat on the grill. Some experts say that cooking meat at high temperatures on a grill can produce cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Cook low and slow when possible. Also, cut off any charred parts before serving.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher and water source close by when grilling.
  • Clean your grill rack or pan after you use it.

Pay attention to marinades when grilling

Janet Seiber: Marinades can make meat more tender and flavorful, but many storebought marinades can also be high in sodium. Some are high in sugar, too. Sugary glazes can burn easily and are best used during the last few minutes on the grill.

Making your own marinade is a healthy way to add fresh flavor without too much sugar or salt. Try using a base of oil and vinegar or fresh citrus, along with ingredients such as Dijon mustard, garlic, or herbs like thyme, ginger or basil.

“I encourage everyone to try healthy grilling recipe by using a lean meat or a homemade marinade, or grilling another healthy item like fruit, vegetables, or seafood,” Janet says. “Grilling is fun and can be done safely in a way that’s good for you.”

WellTuned guide to increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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