Grill Your Way to Better Health
By Carla Scott Schmidt, ASHH Nutrition Services Director
Why is it that almost everything tastes better on the grill? Although the answers to that question may vary, it is unmistakable that most everything is healthier for you when grilled. That’s right, I just combined “healthy” and “tastes good” when referring to the same thing.
Most of us think of burgers and brats or steak and chicken on the grill, and that’s great – it’s probably the healthiest way to cook any of those meats. Grilling reduces the excess outer fat on meat and allows it to run off, whereas baking or frying those meats allows the fat to be reabsorbed.
While we all know that the “usual suspects” such as the above are great on the grill (and the chicken is very healthy), many are also learning that just about anything is great on the grill - vegetables, fish, even fruit.
Seafood is one of the most grill-friendly foods imaginable. Salmon has always been popular, but most any fish can be grilled for added flavor and added health. And, with the help of a little olive oil and tinfoil, cleanup’s a breeze. Fish, such as salmon and trout, contain omega-3 fatty acids which are very good for heart health. All you have to do is simply apply some olive oil to the fillet and seasonings of your choice lay it on the tinfoil and then onto the grill until it’s done (easily flakes with a fork). Olive oil also is a healthy type of fat.
Of course I can’t talk about grilling fish in the upper Midwest without talking about walleye and the other freshwater species that populate our lakes and rivers. The same principle applies to grilling all fish. I prefer the tinfoil method because it prevents the fish from falling through the grill, allows the good fat found in fish to be absorbed and is easy to cleanup. I like fried walleye just as much as the next person, but I love it on the grill just as much. Shrimp, lobster, crab and scallops are also delicious on the grill.
While you’re making your main meat entrée on the grill, why not throw your side dishes of vegetables on the grill too? Have you ever had corn on the cob from the grill? How about asparagus or potatoes? All that’s really needed for most vegetables is a little olive oil, a little seasoning and away you go. Vegetables generally don’t take too long to grill – potatoes being the main exception – so keep a close eye on them to prevent burning. I generally put potatoes on about 20 minutes before anything else. Another way to prevent them from burning and seal in the moisture is to cook the veggies in tinfoil over the grill too. Just like the fish, just drizzle with olive oil and seasonings, fold up into a pouch (poke a few holes on top) and place on the grill – NO CLEANUP!
For healthy grilled meats, use only lean cuts of meat, trimming all visible fat and removing the skin. Use marinades of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, herbs and seasonings. Marinating meats and fish overnight or at least 2 hours before grilling can reduce carcinogenic compounds formed by high heat and smoke from grilling by 90%. The antioxidants in the citrus juice and herbs provide antioxidants that block the formation of the cancer causing compounds. Cook your meats and fish on the grill at a moderate temperature for a golden (not charred) color.
Personally, I love to grill all year long – both for the flavor and for the health. Summertime is still the best season of the year for it, though. Try new things and experiment with foods you enjoy. Add fruit to your kabobs – pineapple is great! Be safe, have a wonderful, healthy summer and grill to your heart’s content (your heart will appreciate it).