How Healthy Is Grilling?

Nothing beats the tantalizing aroma of a charcoal grill, on a summer day, cooking up an assortment of delectable, smoky, and mouthwatering delicacies. But we all know that in 2017, no matter what you eat, you always have to consider the healthiness of that food – whether it’s veggies vs. meat, or grilled food vs. fried food. Even when you go out to restaurants, menus often have a choice between a fried, breaded option and a “healthier” grilled option. Yes, grilling is usually a healthier form of preparation, because it allows fat to drip off the meat meat (making it leaner), and does not require a lot of fats and oils to prepare – but healthier doesn’t always mean healthy. So, we still must consider the question: Is grilled food healthy?

As with most food questions, there is no clear-cut, yes-or-no answer. So, the best answer for this question is “it depends” – but luckily, we can go into the details of what it depends on. There are three key factors to consider when grilling, which are the food, the preparation, and the cooking process.

The Food

Many of us already know that some foods are healthier than others. Your daily diet should consist of more veggies, some fruits, and a smaller portion of meats. Even with meat, the type of meat you consume has an effect on your health. Many doctors say you should try to consume more white meat and less red meat. Similar rules apply with grilling food. The healthiest foods to grill are veggies and fruits, as they do not form the harmful carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) called HCAs and PAHs like meats do. So, if you are in the mood for some smoky flavors, then an ear of corn or even a slice of pineapple may be better than a steak. But grilling meat isn’t 100% harmful if done a certain way (see below).

The Prep

The preparation of food can have a large effect on how healthy it is. Even the way you defrost food is something to consider – leaving it overnight in the fridge is the best option. When you want to grill food, especially meat, there are some additional steps you can take during preparation to really help ensure that you’re getting the healthiest form of this meat off the grill. One of the first is seasoning, or more specifically marinating. HCAs usually form when meats are cooked at high temperatures and become charred, but marinating grilled meats can help prevent the formation of HCAs because it reduces charring. Marinating them in a thinner, vinegar-based marinate that doesn’t have a lot of sugar can not only help make meats more flavorful and tender; it can also help prevent meats from forming HCAs.

The Cooking Process

The final thing to consider when grilling food is the cooking process. This includes the temperature the meat is being cooked at, and the type of grill you are using. HCAs usually begin to form between 212° F and 300° F, and become worse as the temperature goes up. Lowering the temperature, while still keeping it above the safest minimum cooking temperature, can prevent a lot of the smoke and high flames that cause charring, making the grilling of meats a lot less harmful. Along with lower temperatures, the type of grill you use, e.g. gas or charcoal, can affect the healthiness. Charcoal expels more smoke, and usually burns at a higher temperature, so the healthier choice of the two is gas.

In summary, the things to remember are: veggies over meats, but marinate any meats (in something vinegar-based with less sugar), cook at lower temperatures, and use gas over charcoal. These slight changes can make the grilling option even healthier, and you still get to enjoy the delicious benefits of a grilled meal.

If you have any additional questions, remember that while there are many online materials that can inform you, nothing beats asking your doctor for some food tips and advice. Together we can help make this community healthier, one meal at a time.