By By Scott Prater
Enticements abound, from dips into the cool waters of the local swimming pool to picnics in the shade and lazy afternoons spent with family and friends. It wouldn’t quite feel like summer without the obligatory July fireworks show and it especially wouldn’t seem quite right without the old-fashioned allures of the backyard barbecue.
But beware, many of those scrumptious, hardy meals with the scintillating smoky aromas are loaded with fat and calories, and may not be the best fare for military members and their families who look to keep fit.
Barbecued meals can remain both tasty and healthy, however, according to Julie Anderson, Peterson Air Force Base Health and Wellness Center dietitian.
“People just need to exercise some moderation, and choose some healthier cuts of meat,” said Ms. Anderson, who holds a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion and also is a professional trainer. “One of the biggest mistakes in the American diet is we way over-consume meat and carbohydrates, and then neglect vegetables. So, it’s important to incorporate more veggies in our barbecue meals.”
With all of the places to buy and so many different cuts to choose from, how do backyard cooks discern a healthy cut from a not-so-healthy one?
“Any cut that has the word loin, round or flank are the leanest cuts of red meat,” Ms. Anderson said. “People often forget about other lean meats besides beef too like Bison or Elk, and of course, barbecuers can opt for chicken or fish.
Ms. Anderson also recommends veggie burgers for tasty on-the-grill main dishes, and says cooks can also experiment with veggie and tofu kabob or grilled Portobello mushrooms.
Of course, most people don’t just slap a rack of ribs or a steak right on the grill. A stroll through the local grocery store reveals a plethora of marinade choices.
But mistakes can be made with these too.
“You need to sauce smartly,” Ms. Anderson said. “Try to avoid buying marinades that have the words ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or ‘hydrogenated’ as the first three ingredients.”
Instead, try marinating in olive oils, vinaigrettes and your own spices. To incorporate more vegetables, try grilling asparagus, zucchini, green onions, peppers and eggplants; they make nice sides.
On the issue of sides, a barbecued meal wouldn’t seem right without the necessary staples: potato salad, baked beans and corn on-the-cob.
“It’s still acceptable to enjoy potato salad and egg salad, but substitute the mayonnaise in those dishes with low-fat Greek yogurt,” Ms. Anderson said. “And, you can substitute mayo on burgers and sandwiches with hummus.”
Alternatives to your standard barbecue sides would be whole grains such as quinoa or starchy beans such as black-bean salsa.
Lastly, finish off your meal with some barbecued fruit. Nice options are pineapple or mango drizzled with a little lemon juice and honey.
Choosing healthier foods to cook with and consume is a wise choice for those who want to track caloric intake and keep fit, but proper preparation and cooking methods are also extremely important when considering good health.
Some recent studies have shown that barbecuing at high temperatures can actually be extremely harmful. Barbecuers could be inadvertently injecting cancer-causing chemicals, called carcinogens, into the meat they’re cooking.
“Carcinogens are formed when higher-fat meat products drip fat onto hot coals, which then flares and chars the meat,” Ms. Anderson said. “So you want to keep your grilling time short, and don’t let the meat or fish char. If it does, make sure you cut that portion off before you eat.”
Another advantage to choosing leaner meats is they produce less grill flares. The use of marinade, such as acidic or Italian dressing types also reduces the build up of carcinogens. Alternative marinades might include thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and garlic.
Healthy eaters also typically swap out white buns for the whole-wheat variety or wheat thins for those keeping track of their caloric intake.
Recipes and techniques for healthier barbecue cooking can be found on the World Wide Web. Ms. Anderson also said there are plenty of Web sites that introduce readers to recipes that include alternative types of meats and spices.
“I like barbecued sea bass,” she said. “And of course I like spicy food with cumin and red pepper and olive oil. I’d make a sweet-potato salad and grill vegetable kabob. But be careful when barbecuing vegetables and meats. Keep them separate, especially when cutting.”
Schriever personnel can get more information on healthy eating by calling the Health and Wellness Center here at 567-4292 or, the Peterson AFB Health and Wellness Center at 556-4292.