You go, grill!

by Karen Bowen

As the good weather hangs on, it looks like BBQ season is going to last a while longer. Why not? Barbecuing keeps the heat out of the kitchen and barbecued foods taste so good!

Certainly, people often choose to BBQ to lower the fat content in their diet. Because fat cooks out of the food on the grill, barbecued foods must be low in fat, right? Perhaps. It just depends on the type of food you’re cooking. Continuing with last month’s BBQ theme, let’s compare some popular BBQ choices to see which are the healthiest.

Consider a typical BBQ picnic meal: a cheeseburger, a beef or pork sausage on a bun with macaroni salad, a handful of potato chips and a glass of ice-cold lemonade on the side.

Top it off with a slice of fruit pie with ice cream and you’ve basically got almost all your daily calories in just one meal.

At around 2,260 calories, this meal contains over 125 grams of fat (46 of which are saturated fat) and 100 grams of sugar -not exactly healthy diet fare.

No problem. You could just work it off by: walking on a treadmill for over six hours at 3.5 mph; running on an elliptical machine for over 4.5 hours; swimming the breast stroke for over 4.5 hours; gardening for over six hours; or cleaning your house for over nine hours.

But, is it worth it? Probably not. Maybe it’s time to rethink the menu and include better choices.

First of all, what could replace the high fat/calorie ground beef patties in a cheeseburger?

Try turkey, bison or veggie burgers. They’re lower in fat and are available in most grocery stores. (Their flavours and textures have improved over the years; they don’t taste like cardboard anymore).

If you’re making your own patties instead of buying frozen ones, you can keep the flavour and cut down on fat by mixing regular ground beef equally with either lean beef or ground turkey.

To make this mixture a little juicier, try adding some apple sauce or egg white while forming the patties.

Now, what about those high-fat sausages? Did you know that hot dogs and sausages are typically 70% fat? (Certainly, not that much fat can drip away when grilling).

Instead, you could pick up lean poultry sausages at most grocery stores. They can be just as tasty, but have a much better protein to fat ratio (70%:30%).

If you like a jumbo hot dog (larger than a foot long), it has about half a pound of meat!

That’s 750 calories and 68 grams of fat without considering the bun! Add chili and cheese and this quick meal is way out of the ballpark!

Instead, choose a steak instead of a jumbo hot dog or burger. It’s a better choice, unless the steak is highly marbled with fat.

To keep a lower fat steak -like an inside round steak -tender, just marinate it for a few hours in the fridge to keep it nice and tender when grilled. (I use a low-fat Italian salad dressing with some extra spices as a marinade).

Or, switch to skinless poultry, fish or seafood.

There is a legitimate health concern with eating grilled meat that has been flame-blackened through excess heat.

Eating a lot of blackened meat has been linked to bowel cancer. Be sure to trim these areas off before eating if your flame got a little out of hand while cooking.

Then, for your vegetables, avoid salads that are heavy with mayonnaise (macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw).

Instead, grill fresh vegetables alongside your meat.

Grilling corn in the husk is easy and only 77 calories per cob (no butter).

Honestly, though, I’ve found this year’s fresh corn is so good, it doesn’t even need butter.

For your drink, homemade lemonade on a hot summer day sounds refreshing (even healthy), but that’s not usually what we drink. Instead of squeezing lemons into water, we open a carton or a can and add water.

Quite often, this store-bought lemonade is made with sugar water in addition to the fresh-squeezed lemons, giving it the same number of calories as a regular pop. Ice-cold water with lemon wedges or slices squeezed in is far more refreshing.

When it comes to dessert, nothing tops off a summer BBQ like ice cream.

Now, most favourite ice cream brands and flavours are available in light, reduced fat, and slow-churned; their calories and fat have been cut in half.

What a bonus! Forget the pie. Instead, enjoy frozen bananas, various frozen berries, or fresh fruit, topped off with a low-fat dessert topping.

Combine these fresh meat ideas with all the fresh produce that is still available from the fields and hold on to summer as long as you can. You go, grill!

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant , and she can be reached at

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