Who doesn't love a barbeque? Firing up the grill in the early evening, watching the kids play outside, anticipating a delicious meal that doesn't heat up the house can only be a win-win for everyone. But, did you know there are health benefits to grilling as well? Abby Douglas, RDN, LD of Synergy Health and Wellness gives us the low-down on the benefits of taking it outdoors.
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What are some of the health benefits of grilling meats and fish?
Grilling allows the fat to drip off the rack and away from the meat, while frying and baking retains the saturated fat and any additional fats that may be added during the process. Grilling lean meats and fish like chicken or salmon is a great way to get heart-healthy protein that is low in saturated fat. Grilling fatty fish like salmon, steelhead trout and tuna boosts your heart-healthy fat intake from OMEGA 3s in the fish oil which aids in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. Grilling provides mental health benefits, too. Being outside in the fresh air, creating a delicious meal for loved ones can be a real mood booster!
What about vegetables and fruits?
Grilled vegetables are best when quick seared with some caramelization. This helps the nutrients remain intact, as some are sensitive to heat and degrade when cooked for a longer period of time. Most home cooks know browning, aka caramelization, equals good flavor. This maillard reaction occurs when natural sugars and amino acids are in the presence of high heat, and it tastes delicious! The added savor can help people with picky palates be more accepting of nourishing foods like fruits and vegetables. And, let's be real: grilled fresh pineapple or peaches make a DELICIOUS side dish or dessert for any meal!
What cooking tips should people keep in mind when grilling?
Avoid overly charring food. Part of what makes grilled food taste so good is the browning and caramelization that takes place naturally. However, food that turns black forms chemical compounds that have a correlation with increased cancer risk. Closely monitor the heat of your grill to avoid charring or overcooking food. Keep a food thermometer around so you know when your meat reaches the perfect internal temperature. This is best practice for food safety but also makes your grilled meats taste better. For gas grill owners, clean the inside of your grill on a semi-annual basis, as the debris and oil buildup can cause grease fires. For charcoal grill owners, ash and buildup should be removed after each use.
What are some healthy foods or dishes that people can cook on the grill, with an emphasis on incorporating things from the garden?
For gardeners, grilled homegrown vegetables can be used in a variety of ways. Grilling any vegetable with a light drizzle of olive or avocado oil and salt/pepper is simple and delicious. Some of my favorites grilled this way include asparagus, broccolini, zucchini and yellow squash. One side dish many don't think of is grilled greens like romaine or swiss chard. You can do this with any type of greens for quick caramelization and added flavor. Hearty herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme hold up to the grill very well when used in a meat/fish marinade or as seasonings to fresh vegetables.
Any other tips for grilling lean proteins or veggie options?
One tip is to leave the skin on fish filets or poultry while being grilled. It's easy to remove afterwards and helps improve flavor. Plus, if you accidentally char the skin, it can be removed! For meatless grilled protein options, try grilling tempeh, tofu, paneer/haloumi cheese or veggie burgers with black beans or lentils. These are great options for the vegetarian or for something a little different.
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Caramelized Grilled Chicken and Pineapple
(Serves 4 hungry humans)
1 cup pineapple juice
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup ketchup
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (or ½ tsp ground ginger)
Black pepper to taste
2 pounds of chicken - drumsticks, thighs or breasts work
1 fresh pineapple
2-3 green onions, sliced
• Stir together pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, ginger and pepper in a large bowl or gallon zippered bag. Reserve ½ cup of marinade for basting later.
• Add the chicken to the marinade and place in the fridge for a minimum of four hours or up to 12 hours. *Tip* if possible, leave the chicken skin on. The skin can be removed if you accidentally char some of the meat.
• Cut up the fresh pineapple. Remove the outer skin and core from the fresh pineapple and cut into large rings or large chunks. Set aside.
• Preheat grill to medium heat (around 375-400°F). Remove the chicken and discard excess marinade. Place the chicken on hot oiled grill grates. Grill, turning and basting with the reserved marinade every 5 minutes. Grill chicken breast to an internal temperature of 165°F and chicken legs/thighs to 175-180°F. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
• Once the chicken is about halfway cooked, add the fresh pineapple to the grill. Baste with the reserved marinade 1 or 2 times. Grill until there are caramelized grill marks, about 4-5 minutes per side.
• Serve the chicken and grilled pineapple with grilled vegetables of choice (my favorite with this dish is grilled broccolini), and coconut brown rice if desired. Garnish with sliced green onion.
Recipe by Abby Douglas, RDN, LD