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Heart Healthy Grilling
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Heart Healthy Grilling

By Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD,
Pennsylvania State University

While summer is winding down, there is no reason to put your outdoor grill away. Using an outdoor grill year-round can be a great way to prepare healthy foods -- but your must use your grill properly. Recently, everyone's favorite summertime cooking technique has undergone criticism with the new research about carcinogens. But this doesn't mean you have to ban grilling. 

By following these important tips, you can enjoy grilled foods that are both flavorful and healthy!

1. Marinate protein foods. Marinades are often made with spices and juices full of antioxidants that can act as a barrier against dangerous grilling byproducts. Studies show that marinating lean meats, poultry and fish for at least 10 minutes can reduce the formation of carcinogens that occur when meat is cooked at high temperatures. To reduce the sodium and sugars in marinades, make your own, with fresh herbs, healthy oils, vinegar and citrus juices. Anything that coats the meat and protects it from burning -- like liquid vegetable oil for instance -- will prevent the carcinogens that can form when meat is charred.

2. Pre-heat for longer than you think. Allowing your grill to heat for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking will help destroy the bacteria and other pathogens left over from last grilling sessions and reduce the chances of foodborne illness.

3. ​
Choose lower fat, lean meats. Remember that grilling doesn't eliminate fat in foods, so it's important to start with foods that are naturally lower in fat. When you cook a fatty piece of meat, the fat drips onto the flames and creates smoke, which can expose the air and your food to carcinogens. An easy way to decrease the amount of fat is to choose leaner cuts of meat, such as loin, round, or flank. Boneless and skinless chicken breast, fish, scallops, and shrimp are delicious lower-fat protein foods for grilling.

4. Reduce grilling time. The faster foods are cooked, the less likely they will become charred. Another quick, simple way to cut back on the risk of developing grill-induced carcinogens is to cook meat briefly in a microwave before placing it on the grill.  Just one to three minutes in the microwave can reduce the time it takes to cook meat over an open flame, but you’ll still get that delicious grill flavor. You also can cube or slice meat into smaller portions to speed up the cooking time.

Burnt isn’t better. A bit of char is often unavoidable but incinerated meats will contain more cancer-causing compounds. Some people use charring (or color) as an indicator of doneness, however you don’t want to cook meat much past its goal temperature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking pork, beef, veal and lamb to 145 degrees, then allowing the meat to rest three minutes before cutting or eating (this allows the internal temperature of the meat to continue to rise slightly to destroy any remaining harmful bacteria). Poultry should reach at least 165 degrees and fish at least 145 degrees.

6. C
lean your grill. It’s important to scrape off debris on grill grates to clear off potentially harmful residue that builds up over time and reduce exposure to bacteria growth. After grilling, use a grill brush to carefully brush down the grates while they’re still hot — and remove the grease and any food particles. Then, using tongs, wipe off the grates with a paper towel dampened with a little vegetable oil (to keep it from burning). This will pick up any remaining particles. If you forgot to clean the grill after the last use, preheat for 15 minutes, then scrape and wipe before cooking.

When done properly, grilling keeps foods moist and brings out delicious flavors. If you use sauces and toppings for your grilled food, try avocados, tomatoes, green leafy lettuces and onions. You also can grill some fruits and veggies, such as peaches and pineapples (fresh or canned in water or juice), tomatoes, and corn.

Fruit of the month: pineapple

The word 'pineapple' is derived from the word 'pina,' which was used to describe a pinecone by the Spanish.  It was later introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, which are now the largest producer of pineapples. about 20 percent of your daily need for vitamin C. Select pineapples with a nice fragrant smell. You can tell if a pineapple is ripe by how easy it is to pull one of the leaves out from the top. After purchase, store the fruit for 1-2 days at room temperature before serving to allow it to become softer and sweeter. Store whole in the refrigerator for 3-5 days or cut up for 5-7 days.

Vegetable of the month: corn
Corn is referred to as maize in most countries. This comes from the Spanish word 'maiz.' Corn is a cereal crop that is part of the grass family. On average an ear of corn has 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows. Corn will always have an even number of rows on each cob. There is one piece of silk for each kernel. Select ears that have green husks, fresh silks and tight rows of kernels.  Refrigerate corn with husks on and use them within 1-2 days.

Interested in reading more heart healthy nutrition information?

​Visit our Healthy Eating section!

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