Guide to Healthy Grilling

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Guide to Healthy Grilling

Smoking hot, tasty rubs, and food that’s charred to perfection are common expressions around a barbeque, we’re adding healthy grilling to the conversation. Commonly associated with sizzling hunks of meat, it’s time to flip notions about what you can grill. Some of the most delicious things to come off the barbeque are also the healthiest foods to grill. Nothing beats a grilled mushroom or jalapeno (…talk about hosting hot fun-gi in your backyard). Fire up the grill! This guide to healthy grilling will help you confidently raise your barbeque tongs, because you, my friend, are going to be a healthy grill master!

10 Best Healthy Foods to Grill
  • Asparagus
  • Bell Peppers
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Jalapenos
  • Mushrooms
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple slices
  • Radicchio
  • Tofu
  • Zucchini

What are the Best Healthy Foods to Grill?

Plants are some of the healthiest foods you can grill. It’s amazing what happens to stone fruit when you put it on the hot grill for a few minutes. Or, the flavour explosion of biting into a lightly seared jalapeno. The way fungi’s earthy flavours pair with the smoky grill is sensational! Tofu cooks to a perfect texture. All-time favourite healthy grill additions include corn on the cob, asparagus, and bell peppers.

Is Grilling a Healthy Way to Cook?

With less oil needed, grilling is a healthy way to cook, when compared to sautéing or deep frying. Plus, on the grill, there is the ability of fat to drip off of the foods. It’s worth noting that there are ways to grill that make it healthier (see below). If you grill at high temperatures, overcook your meat, or use certain sauces, it can produce higher amounts of potentially harmful compounds. According to the National Cancer Institute, some barbequed food contain  heterocyclic amines (HACs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which may increase the risk of illness if consumed regularly in high amounts. In the Report on Carcinogens, 11th edition, of the National Toxicology Program, prevalent HACs and PAHs are “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens. Using this guide to healthy grilling you can lower your exposure to these compounds.

Is Grilling Bad for Your Health?

High heat involved in grilling can cause some potentially harmful compounds to form on your food; however, with a few adjustments to your cooking methods, you can make grilling healthier. The heating source, grilling time, distance from the heat, amount of fat, and marinade ingredients influence the formation of PAHs and HACs. For example, charcoal grilling is a higher PAH-forming cooking method. PAHs form when fat and juices drip onto the hot charcoal or grill surface and then travel back up onto your food in the smoke. Cooking at high temperatures can char food, which involves the formation of HACs. As such it’s best to cut off any charred bits and avoid overcooking meat. Researchers have found many ways to reduce the formation of HACs and PAHs on your grilled delights – let’s fire up the BBQ and do some healthy grilling!

The Healthiest Way to Grill Food

By using a few tips and tricks, you can enjoy healthy food from the grill! Here are some of the healthiest ways to grill food:

  • Use Herbs: Herbs make food taste good, and the antioxidant ability of herbs, such as rosemary, helps to prevent the formation of HACs by up to 70%, suggests research.
  • Spice it Up: Add some spice to your marinades! Ingredients with antioxidant activity (garlic, onion, lemon) can reduce PAH and HAC levels in grilled meats, shows research. Other studies have found the use of lemongrass, turmeric, and ginger to marinates for meats, reduces the formation of PAHs and HACs compounds when grilled.
  • Load Up on Veggies: Filling your grill with vegetables is one way to practice healthy grilling! From zucchini to mushrooms, bell peppers to radicchio, the healthiest grilling involves lots of vegetables. Even lettuce tastes fantastic when it’s been kissed by the smoky, hot grill. For a sweet addition, try firm fruits on the grills, such as peaches or pineapple.
  • Choose Proteins Wisely: Processed meats, such as hot dogs, have higher associations with illness than unprocessed meats, according to the National Cancer Institute.
  • Marinate with Acid: From lemon to vinegar, lime to wine, there are many acidic options to create amazing flavours in a healthy marinade. Research findings show acidic marinades help reduce the formation of PAHs. Using a sugar-based flavour enhancing sauce, such as a barbeque sauce, is best used towards the end of grilling, to reduce charring and HAC formation.
  • Avoid Overcooking: Cooking meat to a safe internal temperature is important for food safety, but then take it off the grill! Overcooking meat increases the chances for HACs and PAHs to form, as does exposure to high heat. Cutting your meat into smaller pieces can help reduce cooking time and moving it frequently can avoid extended exposure to high heat.

Guide to Healthy Grilling

With these healthy grilling tips, you’re ready to BBQ with confidence.

  • Grill more plants
  • Skip sugary marinades
  • Avoid overcooking
  • Flip frequently
  • Cut meats into small pieces
  • Add some spice
  • Use acidic marinades

Now, you know how to be a healthy grill master! Go on – flip that BBQ spatula and clap those tongs because you are ready for the healthiest BBQ season yet.

Come and get it! Healthy grilling is the hottest trend this summer, and it’s worth sticking your fork into.


Effects of marinating on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and fluoranthene) in grilled beef meat. Food Control 2012 Dec; 28(2): 420-425.

Marinades reduce heterocyclic amines from primitive food preparation techniques. Nat Med J 2010 Jul; 2(7).

Inhibitory effects of dietary antioxidants on the formation of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in grilled pork. Asian-Australas J Anim Sci 2019 Aug; 32(8): 1205-1210.

Effect of oil marinades with garlic, onion, and lemon juice on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in fried beef patties. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Dec 12; 55(25):10240-7.

Influence of fructooligosaccharides and garlic on formation of heterocyclic amines in fried ground beef patties. Food Sci Biotech 2010; 19: 1159-1164.

Chemicals in meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer risk. National Cancer Institute, 2021.

Metabolism and biomarkers of heterocyclic aromatic amines in molecular epidemiology studies: lessons learned from aromatic amines. Chem Res Toxicol 2012 Aug 15; 24(8): 1169-1214.

Contributed by Allison Tannis, R.H.N. 

1 Response
  1. […] Fire up the grill! This summer, your taste buds will flip over these healthy BBQ alternatives. Summer BBQs and grilling are typically associated with hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, and other animal proteins. But, it is possible to make vegetables taste just as good! Sure, you can swap out that beef patty for one that’s plant-based, but what about making vegetables the star of the grill? Check out our Guide to Healthy Grilling. […]