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Getting Lean through Grilling

Posted 5/23/2016 by UHBlog

It's possible to have a healthy, lean meal cooked on your grill. Ask us how.

Getting Lean Through Grilling

For many, outdoor cooking is one of the joys of summer. Although grilling out is widely associated with an increased risk of cancer and other serious health conditions, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk.

“The fun of outdoor grilling can be a double-edged sword,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic. “On top of the fatty beef and pork that many people associate with a good barbecue, cooking on a grill creates chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. If you’re going to grill outdoors, you may want to take precautions to reduce your exposure to them.”

According to Jamieson-Petonic, the chemical culprits are:

  • HCAs (heterocyclic amines) – These tend to occur on the char marks of grilled meat and are associated with the direct heat of a barbecue grill.
    “The high heat creates a blackened crust,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “More charred area creates increased potential carcinogens coating your food. Over longer periods of time, HCAs increase the risk of cancer, particularly colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.”
  • PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) – These are contained in the smoke of a grill, especially when fat drips onto the burner, flaring up flames.
    “When you get that smoky smell on your clothes, you also get that in your lungs,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “The more your grill smokes, the more PAHs that are made. Some people like the flavor, but they don’t want the toxins.”
  • AGEs (advanced glycolytic enzymes) – These chemicals are created when you cook at very high temperatures.
    “AGEs are associated with inflammation,” she says. “Inflammation in your body contributes to just about every serious health condition you can think of, from cancer to diabetes to heart disease.”

Fortunately, she says, there are five tips to reduce the risk of outdoor grilling.

They include:

  1. Reduce the heat. Try to keep your grilling temperature under 325 degrees to reduce the formation of HCAs.
  2. Avoid cooking on a direct flame. A layer of aluminum foil over the grate may provide some protection from direct fire.
  3. Distance food as much as possible from the heat source to reduce HCA production.
  4. Use natural hardwood charcoal that doesn’t contain coal, oil, limestone or petroleum products.
  5. Reduce cooking time. HCA production increases with time.

“Two good ways to reduce grilling time are to pre-cook your food indoors before finishing it on the grill, and to marinate food for at least an hour in a lemon juice or vinegar mixture,” she says. “Marinating creates a protective layer on your food.”

You also want to choose healthy foods to grill, she says.

“Red meat doesn’t have to be the main attraction,” she says. “Fish and poultry are delicious on the grill, and you can also be creative with fruits and vegetables.”

Among her summer favorites are grilled pineapples and mangos.

“Before grilling, I marinate them with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, with a little honey, some chopped mint or basil and a sprinkle of sea salt,” she says. “It’s lovely.”

Outdoor grilling may not be the healthiest dining option, Jamieson-Petonic says, but with proper precautions and choosing the right foods, it may not be the worst either.

“It can be a better alternative to deep frying or picking up fast food,” she says. “For people in a hurry, it’s convenient to marinate fish, poultry or vegetables overnight, then put it on the grill a short time and enjoy a lovely high performance meal – with a nice summery light flavor.”

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other University Hospitals health care professional online.

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