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A Healthier Way to Grill

6 ways to avoid the pitfalls of barbecuing

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

What's the word on grilling: Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

After all, one of the golden rules of eating healthy at restaurants is to choose "grilled" foods over "fried" choices. That's because grilled food is generally a healthier choice -- there's no batter coating or dripping grease.

Besides, there's something about the act of grilling that just makes food look and taste fantastic. Is it the smoky flavor, the fun flavors of marinades, the grill lines that form on the food, or the fresh taste that comes from cooking something over high heat for a short amount of time? Try all of the above!

I hate to burst your "isn't-grilling-fun?" bubble, but the way I see it, there are two nutritional downsides to grilling.

  • Many Americans end up eating very high-fat meats and sausages when they fire up the barbie -- pumping yet more calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol into their diets.
  • Then there's the matter of a couple of potentially cancer-causing compounds: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs form when fat from the meat drips onto the hot coals or grill element. They're then deposited on the food courtesy of flame-ups and rising smoke. Unfortunately, that yummy charring that forms on meat can contain PAHs as well. HCAs, meanwhile, are produced when red meat, poultry and fish meet high-heat cooking, like grilling or broiling.

But don't despair, grill lovers -- a new, healthy way to grill is possible!

6 Keys to Healthy Grilling

Follow these tips, and you can grill without guilt.

1. Grill Fruits and Vegetables

Grilling fruits and vegetables is a great idea, whether or not you're grilling meat or fish to go with them. We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and this is an appealing way to serve them. I probably don't need to remind you that eating fruits and vegetables benefits the body in so many ways -- reducing your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity, and some types of cancer.

But here's the best part: PAHs and HCAs don't form on grilled fruits and vegetables. Plus, if you are having grilled meat, it's a great idea to get antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in the same meal.

Some fruits and vegetables that are great to grill:

  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Bell peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Apple
  • Pear

2. Grill Smart, Grill Lean

When you're grilling meat, limit the amount of fat that drips on the coals by starting with lean cuts trimmed of visible fat and skin. If you put a very lean cut of beef or pork, or skinless chicken, onto the grill, you're off to a healthy start. (Following Tip No. 3 can help make most lean cuts more tender and tasty, too.)

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