Healthy barbecues

Healthy Barbecues – 6 great tips

Healthy Barbecues – 6 great tips

The sun is shining and it’s time to relax and enjoy delicious food with friends and family. Barbecues can be unhealthy but they don’t have to be. We’re going to look at 6 ways we can ensure they are good for us.


What are the challenges to healthy barbecues? One of the areas where barbecues can be challenging when it comes to health is in the actual cooking method. When we cook meat at a high heat, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed. These are chemicals that are carcinogenic. Barbecues tend to be a lot hotter than cooking on the stovetop or oven so more HCAs are formed. We often overcook and leave food longer on the barbecue and sometimes even chargrill it. 


In addition, fats dripping from any food onto the coals produce smoke containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that then come into contact with the food. These are also carcinogenic. 


There are a few things that you can do to reduce your exposure to these chemicals. Firstly make sure that your grill is not too close to the coals so that the temperature is lower and the food is cooked slowly. Secondly, if the food does become blackened don’t eat this part, simply cut it off. Thirdly you could partially pre-cook your food in the oven to avoid the risk of overcooking on the barbecue.


The reason we talk about eating the rainbow is because it is the phytochemicals in plants that give them their colour. There are thousands of different phytochemicals providing us with a huge array of health benefits. For example, turmeric is bright yellow and contains the anti-inflammatory chemical curcumin. Blueberries are purple and contain anthocyanins that help stimulate the release of nitric oxide from blood vessel walls, causing them to relax and reduce blood pressure. 


When we eat the rainbow we are exposed to a wide variety of these health-supporting nutrients. So the fourth tip for a healthy barbecue is to make sure you include lots of colour. This could be in the form of salads or a mix of vegetable skewers; things like aubergine, courgette and peppers. Why not try this greek quinoa salad!


Tip number 5 for healthy barbecues is to swap out the burger bun but that is processed and will detrimentally impact your blood sugar levels and make a potato salad. When we cook and then cool potatoes the chemical structure of the starches within them changes. The result is an increase in resistant starch. 


Not only does this aid in blood sugar balancing, ensuring that glucose is released into the bloodstream more slowly, but it also provides a food source for the gut microbiota. This allows beneficial microbes to flourish and pathogenic ones to be crowded out. Ensuring a balanced gut microbiota is important for all aspects of health.


Sauces and dressings can be a source of hidden sugar. Tip number 6 is to look for ones with no added sugar or make something simple yourself. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Maybe you don’t have time to make homemade mayonnaise but tahini mixed with water and lemon juice is a great salad dressing. A good quality olive oil either on its own or with balsamic vinegar takes seconds to prepare. 


Olive oil is a staple part of the Mediterranean diet and with good reason. It is rich in monounsaturated fat, oleic acid that reduces inflammation and is a good source of antioxidants. It has also been shown to increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor involved in brain neuroplasticity hence benefiting brain function. 


When choosing your olive oil, buy the best quality you can afford. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed of olive oils and contains the highest levels of phytonutrients. It has a denser colour than other olive oils. As we discussed earlier the colour is important as it signifies the presence of health beneficial phytonutrients. 


Enjoying our food, relaxing and socialising are important for our mental health so take these tips on board but also enjoy your healthy barbecue.


For plenty of recipes for healthy barbecues look here and here