Preparing certain meats properly on the grill while tailgating can provide for a tasty meal, but the availability of more plant-based foods offers additional opportunities to cook healthy, unique dishes.
Although it is convenient, you must also remember that grilling has its risks. In addition to the well-known issue of food-borne illness from undercooked meats, increasing evidence suggests over-cooked foods can contain carcinogens - especially food items that are charred, burned or blackened.
As you are planning your football tailgate, here are some sensible tips for eating and cooking healthy.
- Aim to keep portions of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) to three ounces or less, no more than five times per week. Choose lean cuts and trim the fat. Avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages and deli meats; save these foods for special occasions. When you do purchase them, try to find the nitrate or nitrite free versions.
- Although red meats are a good source of protein, they are also high in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat. Red meats also contain compounds that can be related to cellular damage and can form carcinogens when preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives.
- Cooking "muscle meats" (including beef, pork, fish or poultry) at high temperatures can also produce carcinogens, especially in areas where meat may become charred or blackened; the risk of carcinogens forming is higher for processed and red meats.
But as much as you might like grilling meat, numerous studies show that increasing your intake of plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables) is a great way to improve health and maintain a healthy weight.
In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that excess body weight contributes to as many as one in five cancer-related deaths. So eating more plant-based foods can not only help you maintain a healthy weight, but can also reduce your risk of cancer.
Eating more plant-based foods doesn't have to be difficult - and you can prepare many of them on the grill too. Some good examples include:
- Tofu, tempeh and plant-based burgers are not only lower in calories and fat than meat, but are also good sources of protein and other important nutrients.
- Fruits and vegetables like asparagus, corn on the cob, peppers and tomatoes can be grilled to add a new twist to your tailgate favorites. Don't be afraid to experiment.
- Other plant-based grilled meals include bean burgers, stuffed Portobello mushrooms and flatbread with grilled vegetables.
- Adding a salad with leafy greens or a dessert of berries or melon to your meal is a tasty way to increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Making kabobs is a great way to incorporate fruits and vegetables with just the right portion of meat.
When it comes to cooking, take advantage of all this season has to offer. With a little imagination, your tailgate can be healthy, balanced and delicious.
Crystal Langlois, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition with Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Ga.