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 foodis 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:
- Bell peppers
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.)
3. Marinate, Marinate, Marinate
You've gotta love the idea of infusing flavor into meats, fruits, and vegetables by soaking them in a tasty marinade. Some favorite marinade ingredients include wines, vinegars, lemon or lime juice, low-sodium soy sauce, honey, garlic, onions, herbs, and spices. Use fat-free or low-fat marinades on your grilled meats, fish, and poultry to limit the fat that drips on the coals. The simple act of marinating before grilling has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs by as much as 92% to 99% in some studies.
Keep these marinating tips in mind:
- When choosing bottled marinades or making your own, look for products or recipes that contain olive or canola oil (and that only use a little oil).
- Refrigerate any foods that are marinating longer than 1/2 hour.
- Don't baste your food during grilling with the liquid the meat was marinating in (this passes raw meat juices to your cooked meat). Before you add the meat, set aside some of your marinade for this purpose.
- Meats and poultry should marinate at least 1-2 hours; fish and vegetables generally only need to marinate for an hour.
4. Cut Down on Grilling Time
Grill smaller portions of meat, poultry, and fish so they cook faster and spend less time on the grill. Another trick is to precook the meat, fish, and poultry in the oven or microwave, then finish cooking on the grill.
5. Flip It -- Flip It Good
Flipping food frequently may help prevent the formation of HCAs, according to recent research using hamburger patties. To turn meat without piercing it (which releases juices that drip onto the coals), use tongs or spatulas instead of a fork.
6. Skewer It
A fun way to cut down on grilling time is to thread small pieces of meat or fish on a skewer. Scallops and shrimp are naturals for skewers, too. I like to alternate pieces of meat, chicken, or seafood with bell pepper and onion pieces, zucchini slices, cherry tomatoes, and/or small mushrooms.
Don't have skewers? No problemo. I love to use branches of rosemary as my skewers. They infuse a hint of rosemary into the food as it cooks -- not to mention the beautiful presentation it makes.
Fire Up the Barbie
Now that you've learned some healthy grilling secrets, here are three lightened-up recipes to try.
Teriyaki Portabella Mushroom Burger with Garlic Mayonnaise
Journal as: 1 veggie burger OR 2 slices bread + 1/2 cup vegetable without added fat + 1 teaspoon mayonnaise.
2 portabella mushrooms (about 3 1/2 inches wide), cleaned and stems removed
2 tablespoons bottled teriyaki sauce
2 large, thin slices reduced-fat Jack cheese (1-2 ounces)
2 multigrain or whole-wheat hamburger buns
2 leaves lettuce
4 tomato slices
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4-1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
A few drops Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Ground pepper and seasoning salt to taste
- Fire up the coals or grill. Spread teriyaki sauce over the mushrooms and let marinate while the coals heat.
- Grill the mushrooms about 6 inches from the heat until tender (about 4-5 minutes a side).
- Put cheese on top and grill briefly to melt.
- Assemble burgers by placing lettuce and tomato on each bottom bun. Top with the cheese-topped mushroom. Spread each top bun lightly with half the garlic mayonnaise and place on top of the mushroom (the lettuce keeps the bottom bun from getting soggy).
Makes 2 burgers.
Per burger: 268 calories, 14 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 9.5 g fat (3.4 g saturated fat, 2.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 410 mg sodium (not including seasoning salt). Calories from fat: 32%.
Cajun Sirloin Burgers
Journal as: 1 "sandwich and burger, moderate-fat meat."
Serve these spicy ground sirloin or turkey burgers on a whole-grain bun dressed with lettuce, tomato, and red onion and the barbecue sauce of your choice.
1 pound ground sirloin (extra-lean ground beef); or substitute ground turkey with about 6% fat
3 tablespoons dry Italian breadcrumbs
3-4 tablespoons egg substitute
3 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
4 slices (4 ounces) reduced-fat Jack or mozzarella cheese
4 whole-grain buns
1/4 cup barbecue sauce of your choice
4 lettuce leaves
4 large tomato slices
About 12 rings of red onion
- Preheat grill to high.
- In an 8-cup measure, blend the ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg substitute, green onions, Cajun seasoning, and mustard by mixing with your hands. Form into 4 patties, by hand or with a patty press.
- Lightly coat the grill grate with canola cooking spray. Cook the patties 5 minutes per side, or until well done. Place a slice of the cheese on each burger, and allow to melt.
- Serve the burgers on whole-grain buns dressed with barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 420 calories, 35 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 6.3 g monounsaturated fat, 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 46 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 800 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
Grilled Eggplant and Pepper Goat Cheese Sandwiches
Journal as: 2 slices bread + 2 servings vegetables + 1/2 ounce regular cheese + 1 serving olives
1 red bell pepper
1 eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
3 tablespoons low-fat bottled Italian or balsamic vinaigrette
8 slices of whole grain bread (or use a French baguette sliced lengthwise)
2 ounces soft goat cheese
1/4 cup tapenade (bottled olive spread available in grocery specialty sections)
- Preheat the grill.
- Cut the top off the bell pepper; discard the rind and seeds. Cut pepper into quarters. Brush low-fat bottled Italian or balsamic vinaigrette on eggplant slices and bell pepper pieces.
- Place the eggplant slices and bell pepper pieces on a grill coated with canola cooking spray. Grill about 6 inches from heat until tender and slightly browned (8-10 minutes), turning after 4-5 minutes.
- Spread 4 bottom slices of bread with goat cheese, then tapenade. Top the tapenade with slices of eggplant and a piece of red pepper, then top with remaining slices of bread.
- Cut each sandwich into 2 or 4 triangles (if using whole-grain bread) and serve.
Makes 4 sandwiches.
Per serving: 317 calories, 12 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (4.3 g saturated fat, 6 g monounsaturated fat, 1.6 g polyunsaturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 8 g fiber, 810 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.