Winter has lifted, spring has sprung, and now summer is here! Along with summer means more chances to get outside, break out the grill, and enjoy the warmer weather. For many people, barbecues are more than an opportunity to gather with friends, socialize, and enjoy each other’s company. Barbecues are all about the food and the act of grilling or “cooking out” is practically a whole lifestyle that could even be classified as a performance sport by some as BBQ-focused competitions, products, and events seem to pop up everywhere. But for all the fun, is there a cost to health?
When meats like fish, chicken, or steak are cooked over an open flame or using high temperature methods like pan frying that resulting in a “charred” appearance, the heat used in cooking reacts with the muscle protein forming toxic compounds which can increase risk for health concerns. Not to be outdone by the flames, fat and oil drippings from meat can fall onto the grill or coals, creating smoke that generates additional toxic compounds, which can be deposited onto food as the smoke rises and dissipates. While cooking at lower heat or using techniques to avoid charring can help reduce some types of toxin formation, others are still a risk when smoking meat, even though smoking is done at a lower temperature.
Here are 5 ways you can enjoy fun-filled cookouts with friends without sacrificing your health!
- Throw some fruits and veggies on the grill! While we still want to try and avoid too much charring of any foods, fruits and vegetables don’t form the same toxic chemicals that grilled meats do and many plants lend themselves extremely well to the grill. Options like peppers, onions, asparagus, squash, eggplant, and mushrooms are great veggie choices. Fruits like pineapples, peaches, and tomatoes are also wonderful on the grill. You can even grill avocado! Fun serving methods like mixing marinated vegetables and fruits on skewers and grilling them allows for variety and excitement!
- Freshen it up! Dishes using fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, with fun dips or sauces can add texture variety, flavor, and an opportunity to punch up the detoxification power and nutrition benefits with the addition of fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, or rosemary. Freezing fresh fruits either chopped or blended up with coconut water in popsicle molds are colorful, nutrient rich, and packed with hydration! And of course, the classic summer offering of watermelon wedges is always a winner! With options for sweet, savory, or a mix of both, adding fresh, raw plant foods to the table can also provide some much-needed cooling refreshment during hot summer days.
- Seat selection. Barbecues have a grand social component, but if you are going to be spending a lot of time hanging out in one place, try to sit upwind and away from the grill. Situating yourself more behind and further away from the grill means the smoke, fumes, and chemicals are more likely catching the breeze and traveling away from you rather than pushing towards you and your family. The same thing goes for the food tables, keeping them out of the path of the grill “exhaust” helps ensure ash and other pollutants from the grill process don’t end up on everything.
- Use grilling techniques that reduce the formation of toxic compounds on or in the food such as:
- Soak it! Marinading foods can significantly reduce toxin formation.
- Flip it! Consistent turning of food on the grill reduces charring and production of toxic compounds.
- Avoid it! Avoid exposing food on the grill to any open flame. Keep a spray bottle with water ready to douse any small flames that may flare during the grilling process.
- Shore up your internal defenses with targeted nutrients to support the body’s detoxification enzymes and pathways. A few top-level, expert recommended favorites to consider include:
- Zinc: An essential trace mineral involved in multiple detoxification pathways.
- Glutathione: Supreme intracellular antioxidant and source of co-factors needed to drive detoxification biotransformation.
- Vitamin C: Potent antioxidant, critical in the production of detoxifying enzymes.
- Barley Grass: Powerful source of nutrients, vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals including minerals like selenium that can directly support antioxidant production and detoxification processes.