Wellness Wednesday: Yes, Grilling Can Be Healthy!

Veg dogsGrilling remains a reliable summer pastime even if the rest of the world is upside down. But is it healthy? Doesn’t it cause cancer? And burgers and ribs are not exactly health foods, so what can you grill instead?

We do know that cooking meat at a high temperature creates cancer-causing compounds that can be bad for you. We also know that a high intake of red meat and processed meat (grilled or not) is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer. And of course, many of the foods Americans barbecue are high in saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease.

The good news is that grilling can be a healthy method of cooking — when we think beyond the standard fare and get creative with summer produce. Not only do plant foods contain a variety of health boosting phytonutrients, but they lack the cancer-causing compounds found in grilled meats. The grill can enhance flavors so even the most die-hard meat eaters will be satisfied. With the abundance of peak fruits and vegetables, summer is a great time to embrace plant-forward eating. Here are five ideas to get you all fired up!

1. Juicy steaks: The vegetable kind! Swap red meat for a thick slice of eggplant, cauliflower, or portobello mushroom. These hearty vegetables become tender, sweet and smoky when grilled to mimic the texture and flavor of meat. Consider marinating them with your favorite meat marinade, and/or pair with a savory sauce to create a satisfying main dish.

2. Sizzling salad: You may not think of grilling leafy greens, but once you taste their sweet flavor and crispy edges, it’ll be a summer favorite. With a good amount of vitamin C and vitamin A, green lettuces can also help boost your immunity. Try grilled romaine hearts with chickpeas, grilled butter lettuce with a simple vinaigrette, or grilled Little Gem lettuces and asparagus tossed with blood orange, lemon, and feta.

3. Carrot dogs: Packed with beta-carotene and fiber, the humble carrot becomes a tasty alternative to the traditional processed, meat-based hot dog. Marinate first in a blend of soy sauce and spices to get a true barbecue flavor.

4. Un-fried fries: Save the oven fries for winter and try grilling your fries this summer. Simply cut potatoes in wedges, toss in olive oil, and cook directly on the grill, or for more crunch, set a cast iron skillet over the flame. Up the nutrition by using vitamin-rich sweet potatoes or other root vegetables. Pair with your vegetable steaks for a twist on steak frites.

5. Sweeter endings: How do you make fruit sweeter without adding sugar? You grill it! Grilling caramelizes the natural sugars in fruit, giving them a deeper, richer, and more complex flavor. Most any fruit can be grilled, but for best success avoid overripe fruits and cut in larger pieces than you might for snacking. In addition to our grilled cinnamon honey pears [link to Monday recipe], try grilling watermelon with a balsamic glaze, pineapple slices with a dollop of honey Greek yogurt, or even a grilled banana dressed up as a split.

So turn off the oven, stop baking bread, and fire up the grill instead. Enjoy the nostalgia of a summer barbecue — but change it up this year with a new, healthier twist!