Three Secrets to Healthy Grilling

Delicious, fire-kissed food. A chance to hang out in the great outdoors. Maybe a party with family and friends . . . For many people, it doesn’t get much better than firing up the grill! In fact, did you know:

  • 75 percent of US adults own a grill.
  • 63 percent of Americans grill year round, and 43 percent use their grill at least once per month throughout the winter.
  • 71 percent say they love to grill because it makes food taste better, while 54 percent say it’s because it’s a fun way to cook.

Grilling is one of the oldest forms of cooking ever devised by humans, and it’s still considered to be a healthier option for cooking meats, especially compared to options like frying or sauteing.

And while a lot of us think of grilling as a summertime staple, it’s actually a great way to prepare your favorite meats and veggies all year round, especially if you’re looking to eat more healthfully, without sacrificing flavor.

Want to be even more of your very own “grill master?” Here are our answers to some of your burning questions surrounding cooking over an open flame.

“What Are the Health Benefits of Grilling?”

Grilling is often a healthier choice than other styles of cooking for a number of reasons.

1.) Grilling Helps Get Rid of Excess Fat

Cooking meat over a grill is a great way to get rid of unwanted fat. As you cook over high heat for a short period of time, the excess fat from your cut of meat drips away, leaving you with a leaner meal that is still juicy and delicious!

For example, think about cooking a burger in a pan versus on the grill. In a frying pan, all of that juice pools around the meat and gets reabsorbed. On a grill, it’s allowed to drip away.

2.) Grilling Lets You Eat Cleaner

When you grill meats or vegetables, you don’t need to load up a pan with oil or butter for frying, or cover your food in batter or salt to add flavor. It’s a simpler, cleaner way to prepare your favorites, without having to throw on a ton of extras. As a result, grilling can be a great way to eat clean, and focus on getting “whole foods” into your diet — that is, foods that haven’t been overly processed, refined, or loaded with additives and artificial substances.

3.) Grilling Helps Food Retain Nutrients

Cooking vegetables and meats can affect the amount of nutrients they contain — and different cooking methods alter foods in different ways. Compared to methods like boiling, grilling has been shown to help vegetables retain more of their natural vitamins and minerals. Meats cooked on the grill also tend to retain more B Vitamins, including riboflavin and thiamine, than baked or simmered meats.

“I’ve Heard That Grilling Actually Isn’t Good for You. Is This True?”

Spend a decent amount of time researching grilling, and you’re bound to come across some negative facts too. Specifically, studies have linked eating grilled meat to developing certain forms of cancer.

This connection is due to a chemical reaction that occurs when grilling meats. While cooking, the fat can react with heat and create polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). At the same time, the charred exterior that can form on grilled meats contains heterocyclic amines (HCA). Both of these are carcinogens, which are agents that can cause cancer.

However, many experts also agree that fears are somewhat overblown: As long as you’re conscientious, there are all sorts of ways to grill healthfully, without facing these risks. It could be as simple as:

  • Choosing leaner cuts of meat, in smaller portion sizes (because smaller pieces cook faster, they require less time over open flames)
  • Marinating meats before grilling (which has been shown reduce the formation of HCAs by as much as 92 – 99 percent)
  • Focusing on grilled fruits and veggies (which are not affected by PAH and HCAs in the same way as meat)
  • Using hacks like grilling over low heat, cooking on foil, and other methods can help prevent fat from dripping, causing the reaction that leads to those carcinogens from forming

“What Can I Do to Make Grilling Healthier?”

Looking to step up your game and make your next grilled meal even better? Here are a few ideas that might work for you!

1.) Cut Back on Sugar

Sugar is a popular ingredient in lots of rubs and sauces that go on the grill. This can lead to charring, and can pack in unnecessary calories. Instead of opting for sugary marinades, switch to citrus- or vinegar-based recipes. If you’re going to baste with barbecue sauce, hold off until just the last few minutes of cooking, so you’re not tempted to overdo it.

2.) Make Healthy Swaps

You may want to avoid loading up your grill with processed products, like hot dogs, sausages, or “mystery meat” burgers. Instead of processed or pre-packed meats, opt for fresh cuts. Many health experts recommend grilling with leaner cuts of meat, and taking the time to trim off excess fat by hand before cooking. Or, think about all of the tasty fruits and veggies you could cook up instead — everything from summer squash to pineapple can benefit from a little time on the grill.

3.) Make a Marvelous Marinade

When marinating your meats for the grill, be thoughtful of what ingredients you use! For instance, you could swap out unhealthy oil choices for healthier fats (we have a list of options available here).

Marinating is also a great chance to infuse your grilled favorites with additional vitamins and nutrients, while also cutting back on the risk for carcinogens. In fact, studies have shown that grilling meat with rosemary can help cut down on HCA levels by up to 90 percent! Other research has suggested that tasty ingredients like onions, garlic, tart cherries, and honey can also help prevent carcinogens from forming.

What’s on Your Grill?

And now, the Enrollment Specialists would love to hear from you! Do you have a go-to marinade? Is there a grilling hack that always keeps your summer meals tasting perfect? Is there a seasonal superfood that you think tastes great on the grill? We’d love to hear your thoughts over on Facebook, where we keep the wellness conversation going all year long!

Have any “juicy” questions about health and life insurance? We’re here to serve up those answers, as well!

Led by our health and life insurance superhero Matt Peebles, the Enrollment Specialists are here to help with all things Medicare supplement plans, group health plans, and more. Drop us a line today to get the conversation started!

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