Throwing a July 4th backyard barbecue bash doesn’t have to derail your diet. It’s easy to upgrade what goes on the grill without depriving you and your guests of a tasty feast. Here are some tips for a healthy celebration this Fourth of July:
1. Choose healthy meats Healthy meat comes from healthy animals. Choose sustainably raised, pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Animals are healthiest when raised in their natural environment. Eating sustainably raised animals also means that you will avoid the negative effects of ingesting excess hormones and antibiotics that are often fed to factory-raised animals.
2. Pick sustainable fish Buy wild fish or organic farm-raised fish. Salmon is particularly healthy as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid swordfish and tuna, which have higher concentrations of mercury. Be aware that many farmed fish are not raised sustainably. Raising predatory fish requires fishing for massive amounts of small fish to feed them, and raising fish in rivers can introduce diseases to wild populations.
3. Serve healthy burgers Start with ground beef that’s at least 90 percent lean. Some people are under the illusion that flavor resides in fat, but it’s the lean part of the meat that is the most savory. Then boost the flavor by mixing your burger with sautéed onions or mushrooms, a little Worcestershire sauce, grated cheddar or another aged cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, feta, or olives. Serve your burgers on a whole-grain or sprouted grain bun or English muffin.
4. If you must have hot dogs Don’t top your dogs with chili and cheese, which double the calories and saturated fat. Instead, try making something fresh and flavorful: a Vietnamese-inspired sauce of diced cucumber, shredded carrot, lime and chili-garlic sauce, for example. Or try sauerkraut or cabbage slaw. But watch your portions because sauerkraut is full of sodium. Again, use whole-grain buns if you can find them.
5. Get creative with kebabs Kebabs give you the chance to stick some healthy veggies in between meat pieces. Try cubed chicken breast, monkfish, prawns, salmon, lean beef, or make meatless kebabs with tofu or tempeh. Add cherry tomatoes, onion, peppers, eggplant, pineapple chunks, broccoli, mushrooms, or any other vegetable that suits your fancy. Slide your selections onto skewers, brush with a little olive oil or a marinade, and grill over the BBQ until the meat is cooked and tender and the vegetables are roasted and charred around the edges. Caution: If using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for 30 minutes to avoid the ends burning whilst cooking!
6. Control portions Encourage guests to eat smaller portions by grilling meat in smaller quantities. For example, try serving 1/4 pound burgers (made with extra-lean ground sirloin) instead of 1/3 or 1/2 pound patties; choose filet mignon-sized steaks instead of 16-ounce steaks; cut sausages in half lengthwise before grilling; make kebabs from smaller pieces of meat.
7. Cook carefully The temperature at which you cook your meat and whether you eat it well done or rare is also important. Avoid cooking meat at a very high temperature over long periods of time. Overcooking meat at high temperatures increases your risk of developing cancer from chemicals called HCAs found in charred meat. People who eat well-done steaks are 60 percent more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who eat rarer meats. Well-done meats are also harder to digest.
8. How to avoid HCAs Use a thin coating of marinade to avoid charring. Also, marinating in red wine or beer for six hours prior to grilling has been shown to substantially reduce the amount of HCAs. Using olive oil, lemon, and garlic can also lower HCA levels. Another way to reduce exposure to HCAs is to cook on a rack or cedar plank rather than directly on the coals.
9. Reconsider the hot dog Beware of processed meats with nitrates like hot dogs and bratwurst, which are some of the worst offenders when it comes to HCAs. Look for nitrate-free hot dogs or ones made from grass-fed beef if you do choose to indulge.
10. Select slimming sides When it comes to side dishes, go for the greens. Make salads from green leafy veggies like spinach, arugula, or watercress. Cook kale or spinach with garlic and serve hot. These can counteract some of the harmful effects of the other foods at a BBQ. When making dressing for coleslaw or potato salad (or another creamy side salad), replace half the mayonnaise with nonfat plain yogurt. Corn on the cob is fantastic cooked on the grill. Pre-boil it until just tender, to keep it juicy and speed up cooking time. Then, place it directly on the grill and turn until charred on the outside. Resist the temptation for loads of butter, as you won’t need it! Other good grilled veggies include: eggplant, garlic mushrooms, asparagus, and jacket potatoes.
11. Use natural condiments Instead of using marinades or BBQ sauces loaded with corn syrup, sugar, and preservatives, season your food with simple good-quality ingredients such as olive oil, sea salts, fresh herbs, and spices.
12. Guilt-free desserts Mix up a bowl of fresh fruit salad and serve it with lowfat yogurt. You could also grill some bananas in their peels for a sticky delight.
13. Have fun with friends Food is just one aspect of a healthful life. Enjoying friends and family, laughing, and playing outdoor games also contribute to overall good health.