As the weather warms up, we have a natural tendency to want to cook and eat outdoors and so emerges barbecue season! The smell of grilling food likely appeals to our ancestral instincts when we did all of our cooking over open flames. It’s a great way to celebrate a beautiful, sunny day, not to mention, there’s less clean-up.
However, traditional barbecue foods here in Canada tend to be red and processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, steaks and chops. These are now known to increase our cancer risk if consumed frequently. As well, barbecue meals may be unbalanced compared to the Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of half your plate vegetables, ¼ protein foods and ¼ whole grain foods.
Before getting started, ensure you have sufficient propane (or charcoal) and that your grill is clean. Be cautious with wire grill brushes that can leave sharp metal bristles behind that can stick to food.
How to make grilling healthier:
- Half your plate (or half your grill!) should be vegetables. Think grilled asparagus spears, bell pepper halves, whole mushrooms, eggplant slices, zucchini boats, tomato halves, cauliflower—the list is endless! Simply brush and sprinkle lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. For smaller vegetables, consider using a grill basket or skewers to keep them from falling through the cracks.
- Limit red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and sausage. Wild and game meats are healthier choices.
- Choose healthier proteins more often like fish, seafood, tofu or chicken but trim fat to reduce dripping and flame bursts that can cause excess charring.
- Marinate protein foods. Using acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar helps protect against the formation of carcinogenic compounds in grilling by 80-90%. And cook on a lower temperature, turning the food often.
- Be sure to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your animal proteins to ensure they are cooked through to the point of food safety and the loss of unhealthy microorganisms.
- Choose whole grain options for buns and side dishes.
For more information, visit HealthLink BC’s resources on healthy grilling and food safety: