Time to dust off that backyard grill -- it's officially barbecue season!
With that sweet summer weather in tow, there's nothing better than gathering your favorite group of friends outdoors and indulging in some seriously savory eats. All of those smoky plates can come with a high caloric price tag, but there are surprisingly simple ways to keep that number in check without compromising on flavor.
Check out these five healthy cooking tips that will keep your weekend cookout crowd happy and healthy.
It's easy to get carried away with tradition, but your average barbecue cheeseburger is loaded with saturated fat and calories. And a single hot dog has nearly 300 calories and 17 grams of fat
-- and that's without all the fixings.
What's more, processed meats like hot dogs and sausages contain preservatives called nitrates that have been linked to colorectal cancer in studies. And cardiovascular research shows that a diet heavy in these meats, which tend to have a high sodium load, are also associated with high blood pressure and heart attack risk.
: Try alternative proteins
like lean turkey burgers, veggie burgers, fatty fishes like salmon or tuna, or grill-friendly extra firm tofu. Check out our list of beef-free burger options here
There are reasons not to char your food that go far beyond culinary concerns: two compounds found in charred and overcooked meats, heterocyclic amine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are known carcinogens.
Research shows that those carcinogens have a real effect, including one study that found that people who regularly consumed well-done meats were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
, Health.com reported.
Make sure to clean your grill to rid it of preexisting charred food bits before you begin cooking anew. Not only is that sanitary, it can cut down on the carcinogenic load.
Further, marinate your food before you grill it. Many spices, including red pepper and other marinade ingredients, such as alcohol, have been shown to reduce the presence of hydrocarbons.
And, of course, don't cook your foods until they're well done.
It's easy to mindlessly pop finger foods and grilled items into your mouth throughout the course of a cookout, so counteract the calorie devastation by preparing high volume, low density foods. Grills are especially great for bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, onions, bok choy, radicchio and more.
One easy way to incorporate more veggies into your BBQ repertoire is to switch from burger-based cooking to kebabs, which naturally allow for a heavy veg load. Check out these kebab recipes
from Mark Bittman.
If you're headed to someone else's house and you can't set the menu, it's often harder to keep your health priorities. In this scenario, the best plan of attack may be to eat before you head to the party.
The fix: Eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates to stay satiated -- for example, a handful of nuts and dried fruit or a piece of toast with canned tuna or salmon. Once you get to the party, it will help you exercise control and eat a small amount.
Cookouts are often characterized not just by their abundance of food, but their abundance of beer and cocktails. In the summer sun, a refreshing fizzy beer can seem like a logical hydration choice, but it's easy to overindulge in terms of calories.
Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of sparkling or still water. Doing so will keep you stay truly hydrated, help prevent drunkenness and keep the liquid calories down.
If cocktails are more your style, the same principle applies -- though it might be worth additionally checking out these lower-calorie cocktail recipes