Tips for Healthy Summer Barbecuing and Grilling

Tips for Healthy Summer Barbecuing and Grilling

When summer and Fourth of July roll around, it’s time to fire up the barbecue grill. If you’re like most people, you love the taste of barbecued and grilled foods. On the other hand, grilling isn’t the healthiest cooking method. When you heat foods to high temperatures using cooking methods like grilling and barbecuing, it creates unhealthy chemicals. These chemicals are absorbed into your body each time you eat that tasty barbecued treat.

What Happens When You Barbecue or Grill Food?

When you heat foods high in fat and protein on the grill, chemicals called polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are produced. Ever notice how grilled or barbecued meat has black edges? Those are PAHs formed during the grilling process. Another type of chemical made when you barbecue or grill meat are heterocyclic amines, also known as HCAs. Research in animals shows both PAHs and HCAs are carcinogenic and are likely to be linked with cancer in humans too. HCAs form to varying degrees when you heat meat above 352 degrees F. The longer the cooking time, the more HCAs formed.

Barbecuing, AGEs, and Aging

Still another class of compounds produced by heating foods to high temperatures is called advanced glycation end-products or AGEs. The acronym AGE is appropriate since research links AGEs with aging. AGEs are associated with oxidative damage and inflammation and have the ability to damage blood vessels. AGEs may contribute to the number of age-related chronic diseases including heart disease and kidney disease. Diabetics have higher levels of AGEs in their bloodstream and also suffer from more age-related diseases like heart disease. AGEs are believed to be a contributing factor.

Advanced glycation end-products are naturally present in some uncooked foods including full-fat dairy products and meat. When you cook meat, AGE formation increases, so you’re getting a “double dose” of AGEs. It’s not just grilling and barbecuing that forms AGEs, other cooking methods that expose food to high temperatures, especially dry heat, do too, including frying, broiling, and roasting.

There’s a lot happening to meat when you grill or barbecue it. Unfortunately, most of it isn’t good for your health. Does that mean you should trade in your grill? Not necessarily. If you only bring out the grill occasionally for summertime celebrations, you’re probably not harming your body, especially if you eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, if you eat grilled meat frequently or use other high-temperature, dry heat methods to cook meat – you may be taking in a significant quantity of AGEs as well as PAHs and HCAs, especially if you grill. Don’t make these cooking methods your default method for preparing meat.

Here are some other tips for making barbequing healthier this Fourth of July:

Marinate Your Meat

Marinate meat in an acidic marinade before popping it on the grill. Doing so reduces the number of HCAs that form. Keep a citrus marinade on hand to “prep” meat before heating it to a high temperature.

Shorten the Time Meat Sets on the Grill

The less time meat is exposed to the grill, the better. Pre-cook meats in the oven and then throw them on the grill for a short time for added flavor.

Grill More Vegetables

Grilling vegetables doesn’t produce HCAs. Plus, the antioxidants in vegetables may offer some protection against the damaging effects of heat-associated chemicals. Green beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, onions, and asparagus are just a few of the veggies you can cook on the grill. To retain more of their nutrients, don’t peel vegetables before grilling them – but be sure to wash them thoroughly.

Don’t forget about fruit. Cut mango in half or pear in half. Grill until it’s soft. Then scoop out the insides and serve with Greek yogurt as an alternative to a sugary dessert.

Add Spices

Season your meat with rosemary. Rosemary is a source of three compounds called rosmarinic acid, carnosol and carnosic acid. When you sprinkle rosemary on meat before grilling it, it reduces the quantity of HCAs that form in the meat. Why does this work? The three active chemicals in rosemary are natural antioxidants that help keep HCAs in check.

Choose Lean Cuts of Meat

When you grill meat that’s high in fat, the fat drops onto the hot grill and produce smoke. This smoke contains aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that end up back on the meat. You also inhale the smoke as you grill. Plus, when you eat grilled meat you absorb the chemicals. Place a protective layer of aluminum foil under the meat to reduce smoking. Choose lean cuts of meat or stick with meat that’s naturally lean like white-meat turkey and chicken so less aromatic hydrocarbons are produced. For a vegetarian alternative, grill tofu instead of meat.

The Bottom Line?

Eating grilled or barbecued foods occasionally is unlikely to cause health problems. It’s when you do it on a regular basis that you risk harming your health. Hang on to your grill and barbecue but use it to grill more veggies – and don’t forget about fruit. Fruits taste delicious fresh off the grill.



Science Daily. “To Block The Carcinogens, Add A Touch Of Rosemary When Grilling Meats”

J Am Diet Assoc. Jun 2010; 110(6): 911-16.e12.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Four Healthy Grilling Tips That Could Save Your Health

5 Healthy Cooking Tips You Need to Know


Hi, I'm Cathe

I want to help you get in the best shape of your life and stay healthy with my workout videos, DVDs and Free Weekly Newsletter. Here are several ways you can watch and work out to my exercise videos and purchase my fitness products:

Get Your Free Weekly Cathe Friedrich Newsletter

Get free weekly tips on Fitness, Health, Weight Loss and Nutrition delivered directly to your email inbox. Plus get Special Cathe Product Offers and learn about What’s New at Cathe Dot Com.

Enter your email address below to start receiving my free weekly updates. Don’t worry…I guarantee 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared and you can easily unsubscribe whenever you like. Our Privacy Policy