The All-American BBQ is a long practiced tradition of sharing great comfort foods with family and friends. Backyard barbecues = summer fun, tasty food, and time with loved ones.
As an avid cook, I enjoy my barbecue outings as much as the next person. However, I have few words of caution – from a health perspective – along with some great recommendations for how you can throw a little fresh and healthy flare into your next BBQ!
BBQ Problem #1: Too Much Meat!
With grilling utensils in one hand and a plate full of marinated meat in the other, the BBQ chef approaches the red hot coals with one thing in mind: LOTS of juicy and delicious meat for everyone to feast on! While indulging in such carnivorous ways every once in a while won’t kill you, eating a meat-heavy diet significantly raises your risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer. The risk relates to red meat (beef, lamb, and pork), and is even higher for processed meats (salami, bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs).
Solutions: Enjoy your barbecue, but:
- Try to limit your overall red meat intake to no more than one serving two or three times a week. Don’t eat red meat the day before or day after your barbecue.
- Avoid the processed hot dogs, sausage, and low-quality, conventional ground beef burgers. If possible, opt instead for salmon burgers, organic or grass fed beef burgers, buffalo burgers, or turkey burgers. Or, go vegetarian and grill up protein-packed bean-based veggie burgers, tofu kebabs, portabella mushrooms, or thick slices of eggplant.
- Add some veggies into the mix! Skewer up some veggie or chicken kabobs loaded with onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, summer squash or peppers.
- Serve up some chili – a mix of meat with fiber-rich beans, peppers, onions, and tomatoes – also a healthy and tasty alternative.
BBQ Problem #2: HCAs and PAHS – Potential Carcinogens in Cooked Meat
You probably have never heard of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In short, they are chemicals generated when muscle meat, such as beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked via pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. Animal studies, according to the National Cancer Institute, indicate these compounds cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer. In humans, the situation is still unclear.
Solution: Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to substantially reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs. Additionally, start by pre-cooking meat in the oven and use thinner cuts requiring less cooking. In general, avoid prolonged cooking times.
BBQ Problem #3: Too Many Carbohydrates!
Buns, pasta salad, potato salad, tortilla chips, potato chips, and the list goes on! These typical BBQ accessories add up to lots of carbohydrates that cause blood sugar to spike, and soon after, drop. Fatigue may ensue. Eating foods like this on a regular basis can contribute to weight gain, brain fog, metabolic syndrome and ultimately to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Solution: Cut down on your BBQ carbs. Skip the bun if you want potato or pasta salad, and limit yourself to a very small portion of these high-carb sides. Or eat the bun and skip the pasta, potato salad, and chips. It’s best to skip chips altogether, as they are fried in polyunsaturated oils at unhealthy high temperatures. However if you must have some, try to limit it to just a few. Additionally, opt for fiber-packed and filling snacks or sides like veggies, fruit salad, and nuts, or cheese which has satiating fat.
BBQ Problem #4: BBQ Condiments
BBQ sauces and ketchup are full of added sugar that raises blood sugar. A 2-tablespoon serving of BBQ sauce will give you 3 or more teaspoons of sugar. And ketchup – is one-quarter sugar!
Solution: Use these condiments sparingly, very sparingly. And, whenever you’re able, whip up your own dry rub mixture (this includes BBQ rubs which you can even add a pinch of sugar to for sweetness) – this allows you to control ingredients like salt and sugar which are so often used in excess in commercially prepared condiments.
BBQ Problem # 5: Salad Dressings
Commercial salad dressings typically have various kinds of sugar (include high-fructose corn syrup), not to mention are generally made with cheap canola and soybean oils which are loaded with omega-6 fats – bad news because an overabundance of omega-6 fats in the diet has an inflammatory effect in the body.
Solution: Read labels. Look for sugar or sweeteners such as malt syrup, maltose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrates. If you see those ingredients, avoid the salad dressing. Opt for a tasty, healthy, and simple alternative such as extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
BBQ Problem #7: Sodacide
Sodas are worthless, liquid junk food, regardless of whether regular or diet. They contain phosphoric acid, which can deplete calcium from bones, and an abundance of sweeteners that can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, and even your blood pressure. Drinking sodas routinely can contribute to diabetes and obesity as well as heart disease and other illnesses. Even just a moderate amount of soda − the equivalent of about a single can a day – sweetened with either sugar or its popular replacement, high-fructose corn syrup, can significantly increase the risk of heart disease.
Solution: A soda to wash down your food once in a while isn’t going to ruin your health. If you must have a soda, please limit it to one – consuming just a single 12oz serving will dump upwards of 40g of sugar to your bloodstream in a very short amount of time! If you drink a 20oz serving you will be consuming upwards of 65g of sugar. A much better idea is to opt for a club soda spritzer with lime, lemon or a splash of fruit juice if you need a carbonated fix.
BBQ Problem #8: Too Many Alcoholic Drinks
There is nothing wrong with an alcoholic beverage or two. After all, a BBQ is also a time of fun. But too much not only means lack of sobriety (and all that may come with it), it also makes blood sugar levels spike and fall (just like food-sources of carbs) and can contribute to numerous health issues.
Solution: Keep a lid on your intake. After a drink or two, switch to a healthier alternative.
BBQ Problem #9: Adding Insult to Injury – Sugar-Laden Desserts
Sugar is the big enemy of heart health, not cholesterol, as I have always told my patients over the years, and as I wrote in this article. Desserts are to diet like sand traps are to golf: it’s hard to go around them. Typical desserts like cakes, cupcakes, candy, cookies, and ice cream all come with your usual lineup of avoid-if-you-can ingredients topped by sugar and other sweeteners. They’re also generally made with processed and hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors, etc. Nothing your body needs or benefits from. For your own sake, just try not to overindulge.
Solution: Fresh, healthy desserts are generally easier than pie to whip up, so whenever possible, ditch the store-bought goodies and instead opt for simple homemade fare such as: fresh organic fruit topped with your own whipped cream (it only takes about 10 minutes!), fruit pops, chocolate pudding made with organic milk topped with whipped cream, or beautiful slices of watermelon (any melon!) packed with vitamins and minerals. If you really want to wow your family and friends, check out some heart-healthy recipes in The Great Cholesterol Myth Cookbook that I wrote. You’ll find savory selections like brownies, blueberry pecan pie, and lemon pineapple yogurt cake!
The Bottom Line:
Having fun with family and friends is what summer is all about. BBQs are an American tradition and they can be a time for sharing healthy, fresh, nutritionally packed fare!
- National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk.
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