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4 Ways to Barbecue on a Diet without Sacrificing Flavor

It all starts with Memorial Day, then there is the Fourth of July, followed by Labor Day and picnics with family and friends all summer long. Grilling and barbecues are an excellent way to kick-start a healthy spring and summer by making a few adjustments to the typical fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, mayonnaise-soaked salads and chips. Here are some tips for healthful, guiltless grilling.

1. Marinate cuts of meat for more flavor with less fat.

Here are some lean-meat choices:

  • Eye of round
  • Top round steak
  • Bottom round roast
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Round tip roast

And these are other options, slightly higher in fat, but packed with flavor, include:

  • Flank steak
  • Tri-tip roasts

Of course skinless chicken and turkey breast are low-fat options as well. Check out marinade recipes online; one site I like is All Recipes.

2. Replace excess fat with a dash of spice and creativity. 

If you still want a good, old-fashioned burger, consider going with 95% lean meat (beef or turkey) and adding different ingredients and spices to provide flavor without the fat. Options to consider:

  • Ground cherry or prune pulp (ground up cherries or prunes)
  • Tomato products
  • Mashed avocado
  • Egg whites with some bread crumbs and vegetables.

Restaurants have found that replacing up to ¼ of the ground beef with the cherry or prune pulp maintains the flavor, texture and especially the moisture of the burger while adding valuable nutrients and lowering the fat. I have done this and nobody could tell that I altered it!

You can add almost any spice to your burgers:

  • onions
  • chiles
  • garlic
  • pepper
  • rosemary

3. Use your grill for more than meat.

Fish, vegetables and especially fruit (grilling brings out the sweetness) are great ways to lighten up your menu.

When it comes to seafood, try salmon, or tuna right on the grill. Or cook more tender fish such as tilapia, sole or catfish in an aluminum foil packet with a good spicy rub or lots of aromatics such as herbs, lemon or orange.

While corn is a favorite vegetable for the grill, you can also grill:

  • Eggplant
  • Red, yellow, orange, green peppers
  • Red onion
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Sweet potato slices (really good)
  • Zucchini
  • Sliced Beets
  • Endive
  • Romaine lettuce

Drizzle with a light brush of oil, balsamic vinegar, and spices.

4. Swap out popular toppings.

To keep the flavor and texture without the added calories and fat, trade out the usual toppings of cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, ketchup and fried onions, as these can almost double the calories and more than double the fat of your average burger and bun:

  • Use lots of fresh vegetables, such as crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and flavorful red onions.
  • Add some spice with mustard or jalapenos.
  • Try using avocados, which will give you some healthy fat along with a creamy consistency similar to cheese.
  • Consider using a small amount of more flavorful cheeses, such as sharp cheddar or aged parmesan so you can get a lot of flavor with fewer calories and less fat.
  • Replace bacon with Canadian bacon to save about 100 calories and 9g of fat/ounce, according to Calorie King.
  • Serve some warm toppings, such as caramelized onions, mushrooms or spinach cooked in small amount of butter or olive oil.

Enjoy the summer with family and friends, and consider trying some of these tips to lighten up your food choices while you're at it.

Mary Teague, RD, LD
Mary Teague, RD, LD

Mary Teague, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian with CHI Health.

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