5 tricks to grill your way to better health

Published on May 19 2010 - 4:02 PM

This time of year my husband is chomping at the bit to grill, grill, grill! He wants to grill everything—which is fine by me because not only is grilling a super-quick way to cook, but when it comes to lean proteins it guarantees flavorful, juicy results—without having to add a lot of fat or calories. (Or do extra dishes!)

Gas or charcoal? Get the answer in our 13 Essential Tips for Healthy Grilling here.

As a nutrition editor I’ve read some studies that suggest cooking meat at the high temperatures you use to grill (as well as broil and fry) produces compounds linked with cancer—heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). But the risks associated with eating grilled meats are relatively small when you look at the big picture.

So we’re still firing up the grill and using tricks that have been shown to reduce HCAs and PAHs. Here are 5 tips to grill your way to better health:

1. Add cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, contain sulforaphane, a compound that may help the body clear DNA-damaging compounds more quickly. In one study, men who ate about 2½ cups of Brussels sprouts every day for three weeks reduced their DNA damage significantly. (Eat more cruciferous vegetables with these healthy coleslaw and picnic salad recipes.)
2. Marinate meats. Marinating can reduce HCA formation by as much as 92 to 99 percent, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). One study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that marinating red meat in beer or wine for two hours significantly reduced HCAs. Scientists believe the antioxidants in these marinades block HCAs from forming. (Get healthy recipes for BBQ sauce and marinades here.)
3.
Try fish. Seafood forms less HCAs than beef, pork and poultry because of its lower amino acid content and shorter grilling times. (Get 20+ grilled fish and seafood recipes.)
4.
Go lean. If you prefer meat or poultry to fish, trim excess fat, remove poultry skin and select lean cuts of meat to minimize flare-ups. Flare-ups happen when fat drips onto the heat source and catches fire. This causes PAHs—compounds that have been associated with increased risk of breast cancer—to form and accumulate on your food. You can also keep a squirt bottle of water near the grill to quickly douse any unexpected flare-ups.
5. Flavor meats with rubs. A Kansas State University study found that rubbing rosemary—an herb known for its high level of antioxidants—onto meats before grilling cut HCA levels by up to 100-percent. Herbs including basil, mint, sage and oregano may have similar effects. (Get healthy recipes for grilling rubs here.)

Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.