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Healthy Grilling

'Grill’ and ‘health’ are not two words seen together often. We are repeatedly warned about the dangers from grilling, especially meat. Yet, humans have been cooking over an open flame since prehistoric times. When man discovered fire we opened up entire food groups that were not previously available. What used to be an inedible tuber in the ground became a rich food source when cooked. Somewhere along the way grilling became synonymous with large slabs of meat and heavily processed meat products. We stopped using herbs, spices and especially vegetables to complement that meat. When was the last time you grilled a yam, a beet, or a bell pepper? As with most things, maintaining balance is key. Grilling meat is not inherently bad but we must balance it with spices, herbs and more vegetables. Here are some specific ways you can grill for your health:

  • Meat quality matters-animals that are allowed to roam and eat their natural diet contain less saturated fat, more omega 3 fatty acids, and higher antioxidant capacity than modern agricultural industry beef. 

  • Portion size- too often we are served or serve ourselves massive portions. TV shows have made over-eating a sport with people eating hamburgers larger than their heads. Sensible portions are a plate full of vegetables with a few ounces of meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Use herbs, spices, and marinades on grilled meat- when meat is heated at high temperatures heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are created which have the potential to cause cancer. In addition, when arachidonic acid, a fatty acid found in meat, is heated it can become oxidized forming malondialdehyde, which can cause arterial plaque formation as well as cancer. Both of these compounds are created through a free radical process so their production can be greatly decreased with polyphenolic antioxidants. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 revealed a 71% reduction in malondialdehyde in grilled hamburger when the meat was mixed with a little over two teaspoons of a spice blend containing cloves, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, ginger, black pepper, paprika and garlic powder. A study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2008 found that simply marinating steaks in store bought spice mixes for one hour prior to grilling reduced HCA production by up to 88%. Try adding any of these antioxidant rich substances directly into meat, in a rub or in a marinade: chopped dried sour cherries, rosemary, thyme, ginger, turmeric, oregano, black pepper, paprika, garlic, sage, cloves, and cinnamon.

  • iFill your grill with fresh vegetables- grilling is a healthy way to incorporate vegetables into your diet. My father, who refused to eat vegetables, now willingly eats grilled beets, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, and onions among many others vegetables. Not only does grilling open up a new way to eat vegetables, those vegetables may help counteract negative compounds from the heated meat. A study conducted by the Department of Environmental Biochemistry at the University of Hawaii found that I3C (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables) and chlorophyll reduce the absorption and promotes the excretion of HCAs.Let’s not forget the social aspect of grilling.

  • Gathering family and friends outside to enjoy a meal and socialize is also important for our health. So gather around your grill and enjoy a sensible portion of appropriately seasoned quality meat, poultry or fish along with a hefty portion of vegetables and grill for your health.


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