Summer and outdoor barbecues go hand in hand. As part of your efforts to live a healthier lifestyle – going to the fitness center regularly, eating more nutritious foods, counting calories – you might be wondering if you can still enjoy this summer activity and how it fits into your new approach to taking better care of your body.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up grilling entirely; the bad news is that there are two major reasons barbecuing can be unhealthy for you. Let’s look at what they are, and ways you can modify your barbecue habits and still enjoy this summer pastime.

The Two Biggest Health Risks of Barbecue: Fatty Meats and Carcinogens

First, you might know that grilling is a healthier cooking method than pan-frying (or deep frying) since you’re not suturing your food in oils and fats. However, depending on what you grill, fat may still be an issue. Many barbecues feature sausages, bratwurst, hotdogs, and other cuts of meat that are high in saturated fats to begin with. Even though you may be using a healthier method to cook these meats, they aren’t the best choices for your nutrition plan.

Even if you choose healthier cuts and leaner meats to grill, there’s another risk. When meats are cooked at very high temperatures, they create what we term PAHs and HCAs – basically, chemicals linked to a higher risk of developing many types of cancer. This might not seem like a huge deal if you only grill occasionally, but many of us fire up the grill regularly in the summer months, increasing our exposure to these harmful substances.

If you’re a die-hard barbecue enthusiast, don’t get discouraged! There are many ways to modify your grilling to accommodate both these concerns, stay healthy, and avoid sabotaging the hard work you put in to your fitness center workouts.

Avoiding the Health Risks of Barbecuing

Choosing meaner meats to grill is a start, but there are other ways that how and what you cook can impact how healthy your barbecue is.

  1. Cook meat at a lower temperature.

PAHs and HCAs don’t start to form until the temperature exceeds 325 degrees, so health professionals recommend keeping your cooking temperature below this. It may mean cooking things a little longer, but think of it as building your anticipation. At the same time, don’t undercook your meat – use a meat thermometer to make sure meat reaches an internal temperature of at least 160.

  1. Microwave meats prior to grilling.

It may seem strange, but pre-microwaving your meats will enable you to grill them for less time, which means less time to form carcinogens, and you’ll still get to enjoy that freshly-grilled appearance and flavor.

  1. Marinate your meats in spices or alcohol.

Spices like rosemary, thyme, sage, and garlic are high in antioxidants, which eliminate HCAs and PAHs (types of oxidants) during grilling. Not only will marinating your meat in these spices reduce toxins; you’ll use let salt for a more heart-healthy meal, as well.

Wine is a strong antioxidant that’s healthy enough to be included in eating plans like the Mediterranean and the newer sirtfood diet trend. A red wine marinade pairs wonderfully with red meats, and beer marinades have been show to fight grilling toxins just as well.

  1. Grill up some veggies and fruit instead (or in higher proportions than meat).

Since it’s only meat that creates toxins when cooked at high temperatures, there’s one more reason to get in some more veggies and fruits. If you’re not a fresh or steamed veggie or fruit fan, you’ll also notice they taste much better when they’re freshly grilled.

If you still want some meat, try making kebobs that are mostly veggies with smaller chunks of meat, an you’ll still cut down on your HCA/PAH intake significantly.

Summer barbecues are fun, but there are a few health concerns. Follow these tips to enjoy your summer grilling habit with friends and family without compromising your health or hard work at the fitness gym.