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Guidelines for a Heart-Healthy and Delicious Grilling Season

Medical experts say it’s easier to maintain a heart-healthy diet when you cook at home. Surveys show that people tend to do more cooking at home during summer and early fall, because they grill out more often during those seasons. Experts don’t always agree on which grilled foods are the healthiest, but following the basic guidelines below can help you make grilling season a heart-healthy and delicious dining experience.

Manage Portion Sizes

A 12-ounce ribeye steak or four sets of chicken kebabs are definitely tempting, but downsizing your portions of proteins — and other foods — is a first step toward a healthier meal. Portion control varies from person to person. Genetics, body type, and lifestyle play a major part in the amounts and types of nutrients you should eat. For most adults, 4-6 ounces of protein is a healthy portion. That may not sound like much, but if you add several grilled vegetables, green sides, and salads to your grilling menu, getting full is easy.

Click here for more details about managing portions and serving sizes

Select Low-Fat Proteins

Lean meat, poultry, and fish, are some of the best sources of protein. Choose lower fat options, such as pork chops with fat trimmed off, skinless chicken breasts, and leaner cuts of beef. Fish is a good alternative to high-fat meats. Certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce triglycerides (blood fats). Cold-water fish, such as salmon, have the greatest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Do Yourself a Flavor

Focusing on lots of flavor is an easy way to make every healthy option a delicious option. That calls for rubs and marinades, but with less sodium and less fat. Spices and herbs are perfect substitutes for salt. Try lemon and a sprig of dill on chicken, or lime and ancho chili on corn. Experiment with assortments of allspice, various chili powders, cumin, garlic, paprika, and dried red, green, or black pepper mixes.

Also, once you have a basic marinade recipe as a foundation, you can create endless variations for grilled items. See a recipe here.

Cut Back on Unhealthy Fats

Use less butter and oils when cooking and serving. Control the fats from marinades by mixing your own, and use only enough oil to make the other ingredients coat the meat. Try low-fat substitutions when possible for a heart-healthy diet. For example, top a baked potato with low-sodium salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of butter.

When you cook with fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as what’s found in olive oil and canola oil. When used as a substitute for saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower total blood cholesterol. Keep in mind that all fats are high in calories. 

More Fruits and Vegetables

The non-meat items on your kebabs should be much more than decoration. There’s a world of grilled flavor you can explore with bell peppers, squash, yellow or purple onions, and more. Find a stainless steel or non-stick vegetable griddle, grab a pack of wooden skewers, and begin experimenting. You might be amazed at what you can create with pineapple, pears, peaches, and a spicy rub. Also, instead of rice or potatoes, consider more green sides, such as sautéed spinach, grilled asparagus, and zucchini. Speaking of more greens and vegetables, see these tips for making heart-healthy salads.

Limit or Reduce Salt

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Limiting salt (sodium) is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. Choose reduced-sodium versions of condiments and dressings.

Select Whole Grains

Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. Try new types of rolls and buns with that in mind.

Try New Things

You’ve been hearing that advice since you were a child. In the interest of heart-healthy eating, it’s time to listen to Mom again. Exploring a large number of new recipes can expand your grilling horizons.

Click here for heart-healthy grilling recipes, and click here to learn more about heart-healthy choices from the experts at the UAB Cardiovascular Institute.