With [the recent arrival of] barbeque season, there is no better time to review some very important BBQ-related health and nutrition tips. The summer is a favourite time of year for most Canadians, myself included, and I want to help keep it that way by ensuring your barbeques are as happy and healthy as they can be.
When it comes to barbeque practices and health, and there are two main things I am focused on:
- Making healthy and balanced food choices
- Cooking and preparing those foods in a safe manner
Depending on the precise foods you select to cook and eat, your barbeque meal could either be an absolute healthy delight or something much less impressive. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Choose your vegetables first: When deciding what to cook for your barbeque, buy your veggies first and in the greatest amount. The more the merrier, I recommend choosing a variety of colours of vegetables as well. A truly healthy barbeque is one that has more vegetables available than any other type of food.
- Avoid the usual suspects: Avoid common processed meat favourites like hot dogs and sausages. These food items are high in calories and fat and low in protein and nutrients. They may also contain potentially cancer causing compounds, which makes them a food to avoid. Opt instead for lean cuts of red meat, poultry or fatty fish such as trout or salmon. I also recommend trying to avoid smoked, salted or cured varieties of these foods.
- Load up on herbs and spices: Herbs and spices offer a variety of health benefits and may often be an overlooked component of a healthy barbeque session. Use a variety of different options or consider purchasing a blend, just be sure to choose one with little to no sodium.
Choosing the right foods to cook is the first step to a healthy barbeque season. The second step is cooking them safely. We all like to see the aesthetic grill lines on our food, but what you may not know is that there are important health considerations associated with cooking foods on the barbeque. When protein rich meats such as beef, pork , fish or chicken are cooked on the grill there is a risk of forming compounds on the meat that are potentially dangerous to our health. In order to minimize this from happening, you can do the following:
- Avoid allowing barbeque flames to come in contact with the meat.
- Avoid charring and/or over-cooking the meat ( ie: very well done).
- Flip the meat regularly when cooking so no one side is exposed to the heat more than the other.
- If pieces of the meat do get charred, do not eat those parts.
- Marinade the meat in an oil-free marinade containing lemon or vinegar before cooking.
- If you choose higher fat cuts of meat, cut off the visible fat portions before cooking.
Following these steps will help ensure you minimize your exposure to these potentially dangerous compounds and ensure your barbeque season is as healthy and happen as it can be.
Before I conclude today’s article, I also want to make mention of the importance of safe food storing and handling practices. Foodborne illness is a preventable but relatively common cause of illness in Canada, and barbeque season a very common time for this to occur. The warm weather combined with potentially lax food storage and preparation practices associated with barbeque season may be conducive to the occurrence of food borne illnesses. To ensure this does not happen to you, I urge you to take a closer look at the following Health Canada BBQ Food Safety Guide.
If you manage to put everything in today’s article into practice, this upcoming barbeque season will be your healthiest one yet!
Andy De Santis RD MPH