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Spring is in full bloom, temperatures are rising and grilling season is officially here. With the delicious smell of barbecue in the air, it’s easy to overindulge. Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy flavor-packed foods without compromising your health and wellness. Consider these tips when planning your next outdoor gathering.
Choose your protein wisely
When many people think of grilling, they think of burgers and steaks. However, red meat isn’t the healthiest choice. Consider replacing it with a heart-healthy option. “Red meat contains a lot of saturated fat, which is bad for your heart,” said Joshua George, R.D., Clinical Nutrition and Patient Services manager at Inspira Health. “It’s linked to high cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Instead, trim off excess fat and limit your portion size of red meat or opt for foods lower in saturated fat. Some options that don’t sacrifice flavor include chicken kebabs, marinated fish filets, turkey burgers and vegan meat alternatives. Complement your meal with a whole grain bun for extra fiber or a lettuce wrap for fewer calories.
Make room for fruits and vegetables
Grilling is an excellent way to get more fruits and vegetables onto your plate—you should aim for a meal that’s about 50 percent produce. Plus, fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and more filling than most starches. Chopped salads, veggie skewers and Portobello burgers are great meatless options. For dessert, try grilling peaches, pineapple or watermelon. Fruit contains natural sugars that caramelize in high heat, so grilling gives them extra flavor and sweetness.
Avoid grill buildup
“When meat is exposed to open flames and high heat, it creates heterocyclic amines. The smoke caused by fat burning on the grill contains another chemical, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” said George. “These two chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.”
Ways to reduce the formation of carcinogenic chemicals include:
- Partially cooking meats prior to grilling to limit the time on the grill
- Trimming excess or visible fat and removing skin from poultry to reduce flare-ups
- Lining your grill with perforated foil to minimize smoke
- Marinating your food and draining completely before grilling to limit flare-ups and carcinogens
- Keeping a spray bottle full of water nearby to manage any flare-ups
- Cleaning your grill after each use to prevent food buildup and charred residue
Practice food safety
“There’s a definite uptick in foodborne illness during the summer,” said George. “This is because warmer temperatures cause harmful germs to spread. And it’s common for foods to be held at inappropriate temperatures for long periods of time during outdoor gatherings.”
Practice food safety by taking these steps:
- Avoid cross-contamination by separating uncooked meat, poultry and seafood from other foods
- Refrigerate raw foods at 41°F or lower until it’s time to grill
- Wash your hands, work surfaces and utensils before and after handling uncooked food
- Thaw or marinate raw meat in the refrigerator or under cool running water instead of on the counter and cook immediately once thawed
- Dispose of old marinades, seasonings and sauces that have been in contact with uncooked foods
Use a meat thermometer
Always use a meat thermometer to ensure your food is safe for consumption. The minimum temperature guidelines are:
- 145°F for whole cuts of meat and fish
- 160°F for ground meat
- 165°F for pre-cooked meats and poultry
For more information or to book an appointment with an Inspira Health dietitian, please visit InspiraHealthNetwork.org.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.