Health Benefits of Outdoor Grilling

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With warm weather here, it’s time to get out of the kitchen and into the back yard and fire up the grill.  It’s a great way to gather with family and friends for good times and good eating.  But hold on a minute.  Haven ‘t you heard what many experts say, that grilling is bad for your health?  OK, there are a few things to do and not to do when cooking food on the grill, but don’t let those naysayers rain on your backyard summertime fun, because there’s good news about grilling.  Grilling — done right — is good for you!

Grilling is a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables

One of the best things about grilling is that the food tastes so good, and there are some reasons for that that are beneficial to your health.  When meat is cooked on the grill, the intense heat of the fire and grill grate helps caramelize the surface, sealing in the moisture and flavors.  Because cooking times are generally shorter on the grill, riboflavin, thiamine, and other vitamins are preserved in the grilling process.  And since the fat drips off the meat as it cooks on the grill rather than being reabsorbed when the meat is cooked in a pan, you eat less fat, which certainly is healthy eating.  Cooking meat this way — reducing the fat content by allowing it to drip away — turns almost any cut of meat into lean protein, which is very good for you and essential for your body in building new cells and maintaining tissues and muscles.  The healthiest types of meat for grilling include chicken (take the skin off), steak (trim the visible fat), pork tenderloin, and fish.  Even hamburgers, which are generally high in fat, are healthier when grilled.  All this fat dripping off the meat and making it leaner also helps with another activity — it helps you lose weight!

Grilling is a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables — and you too!  Like grilled meats, vegetables cooked on the grill have a richer taste, kind of an outdoorsy, natural flavor.  Like meat, vegetables retain more nutrients when they’re grilled; this is especially true with vegetables that have a low water content like broccoli, eggplant, and asparagus.  Other vegetables which grill well are red, white, or sweet onions, corn on the cob, zucchini, and mushrooms, especially portabellas.  Here are two tips for grilling vegetables that taste so good your company will ask how you did it — marinate them before grilling (at least an hour) so they will caramelize, or at least coat them with olive or canola oil.  And cut them into shapes and sizes that will cook well on the grill.  Turn them frequently, and cook them about 8-10 minutes, depending on the vegetable.

There’s another benefit to grilling, albeit not an edible one.  Grilling gets you outdoors.  You and the kids can throw a Frisbee or baseball while the meal is cooking, enjoy the sunset, or find other things to do outside away from the smart phones.  It’s usually a family activity, and in today’s world, family time is sometimes hard to arrange.  And it can be a break for wives who do most of the cooking — men like to do it!  Men like to be the Grillmaster!

When you grill, you should follow some basic guidelines to get the most out of it.  First, be careful not to burn the meat.  Cook it slowly, and turn it often.  Not only does overcooked meat taste a little too much outdoorsy, there are two compounds found in charred or overcooked meats, heterocyclic amine (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), that are known to cause cancer.  One study found that people who ate well-done meats regularly were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Make sure your grill is clean before cooking so that old charred food doesn’t become part of the fire.  Select leaner cuts of meat; fat which drips into the fire causes flare-ups, which can deposit carcinogens on the meat.  Spreading aluminum foil on the grill will reduce flare-ups.  Punch holes in the foil to allow the fat to drain.  Many researchers recommend using gas rather than charcoal for grilling, because cooking with charcoal can expose you and your food to carcinogens.

If you marinate the food before grilling, use a low-fat marinade.  Some research suggests that marinating meat, even briefly, significantly reduces the formation of HCAs.  Including garlic and onions in the marinade may also reduce HCA formation in cooked meat.  Interestingly enough, one study found that adding rosemary to the meat before grilling could reduce HCAs by as much as 90 percent!  Other studies have found that garlic, onion, tart cherries, and honey also block the formation of the nasty chemicals.

Here’s another interesting tidbit.  Grilling has more health benefits for individuals who have chronic intestinal disorders.  The lower fat content of grilled meats helps with digestion in people who have trouble digesting fat.  Also, since grilling involves cooking at high temperatures, it kills bacteria residing in food (such as E. coli and salmonella), which helps people with impaired immune systems (they’re more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses).

So now you’re ready for grilling season!  In addition to time with family and friends outdoors and great tasting food, it’s good to know that grilling, done within some easy-to -follow guidelines, is a healthy way to prepare your next great meal.  Have fun!

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