When it comes to healthy cooking, grilling is among the healthiest ways to do it. That’s because, by comparison to other methods, it often requires less oil. The only problem is that if you make one of the most common grilling mistakes, you may actually be depleting the nutrient level of the foods you’re so proud of yourself for preparing and consuming.
New York City-based registered dietitian Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN of Chelsea Nutrition has more than a few tips to keep grilling as healthy as it’s intended to be.
Mistake #1: Not regularly cleaning your grill
According to Maeng, a dirty grill with built up grease and dirt is not only a dangerous fire hazard, but will negatively affect the flavor of your food. “Properly cleaning your grill ensures that you kill off mold and bacteria that could negatively affect the nutrition of your food and that will not be removed through high heat or autoclean functions,” she says.
Mistake #2: Not trimming excess fat
As flavorful as fats can be, Maeng points out that fats cooked at high temperatures can raise the amount of AGEs (advanced glycation end products). “High levels of AGEs trigger an inflammatory response and have been linked to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease,” she says, recommending to trim excess fats from meat before grilling.
Mistake #3: Grilling on excessively high heat
Grilling on high heat might seem like a good idea given how it leads to crispy, crunchy veggies and meats, but according to Maeng, it’s anything but nutritious. “Charring and burning veggies depletes nutrients and exposes them to benzopyrene, a chemical found in cigarettes,” she says. “If it is possible, use a high heat in the beginning until they develop a crust and lower the temperature after to finish the cooking process on the inside.”
Mistake #4: Oiling grill grates instead of food
While oiling a baking sheet before oven use is often recommended, the same is not true of grilling surfaces. “Oil on hot grates will smoke and carbonize, giving your food an unpleasant taste,” says Maeng. That said, she points out that skipping oil on veggies can easily dry them out and lead to a loss of flavor. To avoid such, she recommends lightly brushing a layer of oil over the food or tossing them together in a bowl before grilling.
Mistake #5: Opting for well-done
There are many memes and jokes about people who ask for well-done burgers and steaks. According to Maeng, it’s no laughing matter.
“A Harvard study found that people who prefer their meats well done have a 15 percent increased risk of high blood pressure compared to people who choose medium/medium-rare,” she says. Cooking meat at high temperatures to burn and blacken can increase oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance in your body, she says. “Additionally, you can lose up to 40 percent of B vitamins and minerals by overcooking meats,” says Maeng, noting that overcooking vegetables can lead to valuable nutrient loss as well.
Mistake #6: Adding sugary glazes
Almost everyone loves BBQ sauce, but Maeng says that many people grill with it in the wrong fashion. “Sauces with high sugar content such as barbecue sauce or balsamic glaze will burn under the high heat temperatures and should be added at the end of the cooking process,” she says, noting that you can also serve sauces on the side for dipping. Don’t use the same sauce you used as a marinade, though, as reusing raw meat marinade as a sauce after cooking can spread harmful bacteria. “If you intend on using marinade as sauce make sure to boil it before using,” she says, noting that it will kill the bacteria and the chance of foodborne illness.
Mistake #7: Only using direct heat
There’s a time and a place for grilling directly over an open flame or charcoal. “Direct heat is good for foods that cook quickly-burgers, vegetables, seafood, thin steaks, etc,” says Maeng. “Indirect heat should be used for foods that take longer than 20 minutes to cook–whole chicken, brisket, ribs, et cetera.”
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