Grill Happy, Grill Healthy

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

The summer heat is on, and if you can’t take the heat, it’s time to get out of the kitchen. This is when most of us pull a cold one out of the fridge, head outside, and fire up the grill. Unfortunately, grilled goodies have a less-than-healthy reputation. That taste-tantalizing browning effect ups our cancer risk with some of our favorite grilled foods. Carb delights like potatoes and bread form acrylamides.  The protein in meat, poultry, and fish create heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Fat drippings plus protein form advanced glycation ends (AGES) when they come in contact with high heat. All of these compounds are known carcinogens… and don’t even get me started on the nasty nasty chemicals in the conventional processed foods that most Americans grill! (If you must eat hot dogs, check out the Co-op’s all-natural selection.) Fortunately you can enjoy your grill marks without sacrificing flavor or your health, you just need to follow a couple simple tips…

Marinade Wisely: Put the pre-bottled barbecue sauce down and let your marinade really work for you. A more watery, antioxidant-rich marinade will cut your HCA and AGE (incidentally, oxidants) exposure dramatically while enhancing flavor. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that using a liquid marinade 10 minutes before cooking significantly reduced HCAs. The thin marinade more easily penetrates the food, counteracting the chemical effects of grilling. And according to Tea Magazine, making a strong tea marinade with green or black tea helps detoxify HCAs and reduce the overall levels to keep you out of the danger zone. But tea isn’t your only option. According to other studies, using olive oil as a marinade before grilling or browning lowers carcinogens by 90%, honey by 30%, herbs 30%, wine and herbs 73%, just wine 40%, and beer 26%. That’s not so bad, is it? It’s best to marinate for four hours or overnight… although the Hawaii study found benefit in just 10 minutes, so if you’re working last-minute, it’s still worth it. Particularly high-antioxidant herbs include rosemary, thyme, oregano, ginger, garlic, and cayenne. And they just happen to be delicious!

Go Veg: Although the most notrious grilling carcinogens happen to be associated with American’s favorite grilling foods, it’s worth traveling out of your comfort zone and experimenting with more vegetable-based offerings. These foods don’t form the troublesome chemicals and are downright tasty (and you can use up some extra marinade on them, too). Try grilling halved heads of romaine, chunks of radicchio,  sliced or whole eggplant (mmm… baba ganoush!), zucchini, summer squash, veggie burgers, tofu, green beans, portobellos, kabobs of cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms… Bonus: You get out of the kitchen for the *whole* meal.

Click here for some great EatingWell recipes to get you thinking.

Happy Summer!

What are some of YOUR favorite healthy grilled goods or secret stash marinades? Tell us in the Comments below!