Healthy Eating: Top 5 bbq do's and don'ts

Barbecue season has officially begun! Before you throw your favorite foods on the grill, check out what's hot for your health.

Barbecue seasoning (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Barbecue seasoning
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Despite the rain this year on Independence Day, Israel's birthday typically marks the beginning of spring. From here on out everyone is outside as much as they can be – the beach, the pool, outdoor bars and restaurants, picnics and most importantly barbecues.
So to get you ready for the ‘cookout’ season, here are a few foods that you should and shouldn’t throw on the grill:
Watch out for red meat
Steaks are probably one of the top foods to throw on the BBQ! And if you don’t coat your meat in sugary sauces or throw on too much butter/oil, then barbecuing really is one of the more healthy ways to cook red meat. Unfortunately, cooking red meat on sizzling hot open flames creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds linked with some cancers. While there is no direct correlation between grilling meat and cancer, a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that marinating your meat in wine for two hours reduces HCAs as the antioxidants in the marinade blocks the formation of these HCAs. Another study found that rubbing rosemary onto the meat had a similar effect.
The final option is of course to grill your meat longer and at a lower temperature which also helps to prevent the formation of these carcinogens (just make sure your food is cooked enough to prevent ecoli!)
Go for onions
No vegetable (or food for that matter) changes more than the onion when it hits the grill. Suddenly the pungent flavor becomes sweet and caramelized (without having to add any sugar). However, aside from tasting great on the grill, onions are packed with some pretty amazing health benefits.
First off, this allium vegetable is loaded with polyphenols and flavonoids - antioxidant compounds that help to fight against many different diseases including cancer and heart disease. Moreover, studies have found that eating onions can help to increase bone density, a great and useful benefit for post menopausal women who may experience loss of bone mass.
Additionally, onions’ high sulfur content, which is what gives them their pungent flavor, may help to repair connective tissue in the body.
Be wary of hot dogs and hamburgers
A barbecue just wouldn’t be a barbecue without the staples such as hot dogs and hamburgers; but does that mean you should gobble them down? While they are certainly delicious, these two cookout treats can be full of unhealthy surprises.
Hamburger patties can be very high in fat – more than most of us realize (as unlike a steak we don’t actually see it). However, if you are making your patties from scratch then it is a great opportunity to opt for lean ground meat and even mix in or sub in some ground turkey breast.
While the calories in a hot dog aren’t widely out of control, they can be quite fatty and far worse packed with nitrates. So if you are the one buying the meat, opt for nitrate-free and low fat or even turkey dogs.
Learn to love grilled eggplant
Eggplant is definitely one of the healthiest foods around. An excellent source of fiber, studies have found that eggplant can help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Moreover, the vast amounts of fiber found in the veggie aids with weight loss – which is great around summer time.
However, eggplant is definitively an acquired taste, or more of an acquired texture. Some of us love it, and some of it just can’t stand its slimy and squishing feeling. However, for those of us who like this purple veggie, grilling may be one of the better options for cooking it. Why? When you cook eggplant it tends to act like a sponge and therefore stirring it or even sautéing it can cause it to absorb a ton of oil. When you grill this purple veggie you can control how much oil you drip on (and hence how much is absorbed), thus keeping the calorie and fat content low.
Go lean on the sauces
When it comes to barbecues it’s easy to remember to watch how much of the fatty meat we consume, but we typically forget to scale back on the condiments and sauces. While ketchup and barbecue sauce may seem harmless, they are packed with sodium and sugar – which can add up if you are not watching how much you are throwing on.
Mayo is of course an obvious health food offender – even the low-fat varieties are packed with sugar and preservatives. Moreover, even extremely healthy options such as hummus and tahini can be dangerous at BBQs, as we are so caught up with chatting and drinking that its hard to notice how much you are dumping onto to your plate - causing the calories to rack up. So whatever the topping, be careful and mindful of the quantity.