A Backyard Chef's Guide to Healthier Grilling

Getting your family and friends together for a barbeque is one of the perks of the season, but backyard chefs should beware: some research suggests that cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals (heterocyclic amines, or HAs) that may potentially increase cancer risk.

In fact, a study from the University of Minnesota found that eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60%. Heterocyclic amines (HAs) are created by the burning of amino acids and other substances in meats cooked at particularly high temperatures and that are particularly well-done. HAs turn up in grilled and barbecued meat as well as broiled and pan-fried meat. 

You don’t have to give up your grill to stay healthy. You just need to choose sensible foods and use the right techniques.

  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any excess fat. Fat dripping onto hot coals causes smoke that contains potential carcinogens. Less fat means less smoke.  
  • Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in it so the fat can still drip off, but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is lower.   
  • Avoid charring meat or eating parts that are especially burned and black – they have the highest concentrations of HAs.  
  • Add colorful vegetables and fruit to the grill. Many of the chemicals that are created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits, so you can enjoy grilled flavor worry-free. They're also naturally low in fat and usually need only a short time over heat to gain terrific smoky flavor. Red, yellow, and green peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, red onions, pineapple – all of these veggies grill well and make healthy additions to your plate. Try the following recipe: 

 Grilled Vegetables

1 cup fat-free Italian dressing
1 small eggplant, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch slices
2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch slices
2 medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch slices
2 red peppers, cored, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch rings
2 green peppers, cored, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch rings
2 yellow peppers, cored, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch rings
½ head fennel, leaves removed, cut into 4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon garlic salt Toss vegetables with Italian dressing to coat, keeping each type of vegetable separate. Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Skewer vegetables (or cook in grilling basket to prevent small items from falling onto coals or heating element). Grill until tender and lightly browned: 1 to 2 minutes per side for peppers, 2 to 3 minutes per side for eggplant and squashes, and 3 to 4 minutes per side for fennel. Sprinkle with garlic salt while cooking.

Remove from grill and place on a large platter, separating each type of vegetable.

Serves 8.

Approximate per serving: 80 calories, 0 grams of fat

From Celebrate: Healthy Eating for Any Occasion

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