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Healthier ways to grill and enjoy the foods of Summer

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4Utah) – Grilling and barbecuing are a favorite pastime of summer, but there are some health risks that come with cooking this way. Ashley Hagensick, Intermountain Healthcare/TOSH Sports dietitian, says there are simple steps people can take to avoid the negative impacts of grilling, and eat healthy this summer. 

Some research has found that grilling red or white meats may cause chemicals such as heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) to form. These chemicals are carcinogens that maychange your DNA and could lead to cancer. 

The good news is there are several ways to avoid the buildup of these chemicals while cooking.

  • Marinate: Using lemon juice or herbs to marinate helps block the formation of chemicals on meats.
  • Flip Often: Be sure to flip meat often to reduce cook times and avoid charring or burning meats.
  • Avoid Char: Steer clear of burnt meats and cut excess fat away to reduce charring.
  • Clean Your Grill: Scrape down your grill after cooking to reduce harmful residue buildup. 

When grilling is done right it allows people more ways to enjoy a healthy diet. Summer also gives people plenty of options for in-season fruits and veggies that are key to healthy eating. Grilling items like pineapple, peaches, and peppers can add a new flavor to your foods. Since many people don’t want to cook inside during hot days it allows for creative ways for food preparation.

Not wanting to cook in the heat is one of the reasons people turn to options such as salads or cold pasta dishes. Hagensick says this gets people used to preparing more fruits and veggies and should continue doing so into the winter.

“Normally half of your plate should be fruits and veggies,” said Hagensick. “Making it a part of summer nutrition gets people into the habit of enjoying healthy eating which we hope continues into winter.”

Many seasonal foods have several health benefits beyond good nutrition. Watermelon for example is a great food to pair with grilled meats. It contains lycopene which acts as an antioxidant to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. 

Since people are likely more active in the summer, what types of foods they need to consume changes. Hagensick says depending on what activity you’re doing you may need more than a standard nutrition intake. For example, someone about to do sports or another strenuous workout may want to eat more grains for energy.

Hagensick also suggests anyone who is trying to eat healthier should watch what they eat, but not diet. She notes diets often fail after people reach a goal, but healthy eating habits can be sustained longer if done properly. A part of that includes not putting foods into the category of “good” or “bad.” Which can often lead to people not eating certain foods until gorging on so called “bad” ones.

“It’s summer, go ahead and enjoy that ice cream, or burger,” said Hagensick. “Just make sure it’s in moderation.” 

She suggests finding ways to make treats even healthier. Homemade popsicles from fruit or low sugar drinks can be great for kids. Adding flavored ice cubes to drinks can give an extra taste to help stay hydrated.

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