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Taking Nutrition Outdoors with Healthy Grilling Techniques

Brendan Stapleton of Fitness Together shares tips for cooking healthy food on the grill.

The following is a guest column by Brendan Stapleton of Managing Owner :

Its summer, the best time to take advantage of the spectacularly healthy cooking technique most of us love—grilling. 

Grilling cannot only be a healthy and fun way to cook, if done correctly; it can save you tons of calories and make those high nutrient foods oh so flavorful. The main drawback is the potential for the formation of carcinogens. The good news is there are several actions you can take that can help reduce the formation of carcinogenic Heterocyclic Amines (HA) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). These proven carcinogens are chemicals formed when food, especially fatty foods such as meats, are placed in contact with intense heat and flame for a prolonged period of time. Studies have shown that HCA and PAH formation can be lessened and even prevented by taking a few simple measures. Here are five tips to help you grill safely this summer:

  1. Pre-cook meats. The less contact with high heat and flames the food has the less chance for the formation of carcinogens. Try pre-cooking chicken or other meats in the microwave for a minute or so to lessen cooking time on the grill.
  2. Use low-fat meats and trim excess fat. The key word in healthful grilling is low-fat. That’s because the fat is what causes the problems, so eating lean is your best bet. Trim all visible fat off of meats and poultry or better yet, eat lean fish or shellfish!
  3. Use marinades. Marinating low fat foods not only adds flavor but is also a great way to prevent the formation of HA and PAH. The best marinade choice is an extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), citrus and herb concoction (think lemon juice, rosemary, basil or thyme and EVOO). EVOO provides a healthful outer shield to foods; herbs and citrus provide antioxidants that have been scientifically proven to reduce carcinogen formation.
  4. Avoid flare-ups. Flame flare-ups (i.e, when the fire erupts engulfing food in flames), burn foods—increasing the formation of carcinogenic compounds.
  5. Don’t char foods. It is not wise to char foods, especially meats. The small areas of char are actually the most highly concentrated sources of HA and PAH, so cut off the charred sections of your BBQ and toss them.

 Follow these five tips for safe grilling and enjoy the flavor and health benefits of cooking in this favorite American cooking pastime. Don’t forget to combine your healthy outdoor nutrition with a regular exercise program for total health and fitness.

Learn about Fitness Together's programs and how a personal trainer can help you reach your health goals at FitnessTogether.com/Burlington

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