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10 Healthy Ideas for a Lean Barbecue Season

These grilling tips can help you have a healthier cookout.

Healthy Barbecue Tip No. 7: Be sensible about servings.

Encourage eating smaller portions by grilling the meat in smaller portions, such as:

  • 1/4 pound burgers (made with extra-lean ground sirloin) instead of 1/3 or 1/2 pound patties.
  • Filet mignon-sized steaks instead of 10- to 16-ounce steaks.
  • Kabobs made with small pieces of meat, alternated with vegetables.
  • Link sausage cut lengthwise in half instead of grilled whole.
  • Thin slices of larger cuts of meat (such whole pork tenderloin, roasts, etc). Let the meat rest 10 minutes after cooking, then slice before serving to family or guests.

Healthy Barbecue Tip No. 8: Tenderize lean meats with marinades!

When grilling lean meat, use lower-fat marinades with acid ingredients to help break down the tough fibers. Marinades add lots of flavor, too.

But keep in mind that the power of marinades is only skin-deep. They can tenderize the surface of the meat only to about 1/4 inch. That's why it's important to make sure the marinade covers the entire surface of your meat. It also helps to score the meat (cut into the surface about 1/4 inch deep with a sharp knife in several places) before coating it with marinade.

Healthy Barbecue Tip No. 9: Lower potential cancer risks associated with grilling.

PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) are substances formed on the surface of well-done meat cooked at high temperatures. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recently concluded that the evidence that these two substances increase the risk of cancer in humans is "limited but suggestive."

PAHs, in particular, come from smoke, which is formed when fat drips from meat onto the grill. "Technically, anything that spends any time around smoke will contain some level of PAHs," explains Glen Weldon, head of education and communications at the AICR. The good news is many of the grilling suggestions in the first eight tips help reduce your intake of these two substances.

But what you grill is perhaps more important than how often you grill. A recently published AICR report concluded that diets high in red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and especially processed meats are a "convincing: cause of colorectal cancer."

Keep in mind that grilling vegetables and fruit produces negligible HCAs or PAHs. In fact, diets that are high in plant foods in general are associated with a reduced risk of several cancers.

Here are a few grilling suggestions to reduce your cancer risk:

  • Use a low-fat marinade. Some research suggests that marinating meat (even briefly) significantly reduces the formation of HCAs. Including garlic and onions in the marinade may also help reduce HCA formation on cooked meat.
  • Select leaner cuts (and trim any visible fat), to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which may deposit carcinogens on the meat.
  • Flip the meat on the grill often. This will help reduce the amount of carcinogens that are potentially deposited on the meat.
  • You can also reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat from the meat to drain.

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