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Safe and Healthy Outdoor Grilling

Now that the summer season is in full swing, it’s time to start barbequing. Outdoor cooking is fast, easy and fun. What’s more, grilling can help to improve your heart health.

“Grilling meats makes it easier to manage a low fat diet because it will have a reduced fat content compared to some other cooking methods. That’s because the fat will drop off as the food cooks. Another benefit of grilling is the shorter cooking time. This helps to retain vitamins when you are grilling vegetables.  Overall, grilling can lead to healthier cholesterol levels with a reduced fat intake leading to better cardiovascular health,” said Nonnie Toth, MS, RD, LDN, clinical dietician, Allegheny Health Network Cardiovascular Institute.

But before you fire up the grill, here’s some food for thought. The types of foods you grill and the way you grill your food can pose health hazards. Fortunately, you can make grilling healthier by following a few basic guidelines.

  • Go lean. When possible, replace hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and other meats that are high in fat with leaner meats such as chicken, fish and pork. For hamburgers, use ground sirloin or 93/7 percent lean beef, or consider ground turkey burgers. And if want to make that a cheeseburger, opt for cheese slices made with skim milk.
  • Get colorful. Vegetables such as red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are delicious when grilled and provide many healthy nutrients. Salads are a great choice, too, but use either a vinaigrette dressing or oil and vinegar instead of a creamy dressing.
  • Add fiber. You can make barbeques even healthier by adding foods rich in fiber. Serve those turkey hamburgers and hotdogs in whole wheat buns. Baked vegetarian beans also make a great side dish and are packed with plenty of fiber.
  • Don’t overcook. Health experts warn that meats and vegetables cooked over high temperatures may be exposed to carcinogenic substances. In particular, charcoal is believed to contaminate food with carcinogenic compounds and it also releases dangerous hydrocarbons and soot into the air. Try cooking with a gas grill instead. Besides offering convenience, gas is cleaner. You can occasionally grill with charcoal, but avoid charring the meat and stay out of the way of smoke from the grill. Also, marinating meat before grilling can reduce the release of carcinogenic compounds.
  • Avoid contamination. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours, especially during warmer temperatures. Pre-heating your grill for 20 minutes can help kill lingering bacteria. Never use the same plate and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat. Also, it’s a good idea to scrape off and clean your grill after each use. Bacteria and carcinogenic residue can build up on the grates over time. Finally, wash your hands thoroughly after handing raw meats.
  • Make it H2O. Instead of stocking up your cooler with alcoholic beverages or sodas high in caffeine and sugar, serve water. You’ll cut down calories and stay hydrated longer.

Make outdoor grilling safer and you will minimize your risks while enhancing the flavor of your food. Bon appetite!