The average BBQ meal contains 3,500 calories, but don't let that stop you from hitting up a slew of BBQs backyard cookouts and pool parties this summer. Even though BBQs can be packed with fattening foods, there's usually a ton of delicious, good-for-you food choices there, too. Check out these top cookout tips from "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right."
1. Drink water. When you get dehydrated, not only does your energy drop (not ideal at a party), but you also become more likely to eat when you're just thirsty and make not-so-smart food decisions. Remember to drink before you're thirsty -- by the time you are feeling thirsty, you are already past the point of being adequately hydrated.
2. The "Grill" of Victory -- Grilling makes practically everything taste great, and it keeps added fat to a minimum. As long as the food isn't drowned in oil beforehand, you're pretty much good to go. Grill lean protein, fruit and veggies. Some best on-the-grill bets include: fish, veggie and bison burgers, fat-free franks and grilled chicken breast. Then go condiment crazy with these low-cal choices, such as ketchup, pickles, salsa, mustard and hot sauce. Foil packs and skewers are also good ways to secure smaller bits of lean protein and veggies.
The best type of meat to consume is sustainably raised, ie: pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and free-range. When the animals are raised in their natural environment (roaming in the pasture, feeding off the grass, exposed to the sun) they are often healthier. By consuming sustainably raised animals, you will also be avoiding the negative effects of excess hormones and antibiotics. I believe that these facts, plus the moral and environmental considerations, make this one of the most important steps toward eating healthier and more sustainably. For fish, look for wild or organic farm-raised fish. Try to minimize swordfish and tuna, which have a higher concentration of mercury, and focus on fish like cod or salmon, which are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Slender Side Dishes -- Pair your choice of lean protein with crisp veggies and salad. Try corn on the cob, asparagus and onions, which are awesome when grilled -- and they'll fill you up. Also, remember to avoid mayo-laden side dishes, such as coleslaw, macaroni salad and potato salad. Even a relatively demure 2/3-cup serving of ordinary potato salad can have close to 20 grams of fat ... which makes eating it especially silly considering how many other fun things there are to chew. But slaw can be saved! If you can get to a sink, rinse your coleslaw (until the water runs clear) to wash calories and fat grams down the drain.
4. Find guilt-free frozen treats. Stick to fruit pops and fruit bars instead of standard ice cream treats. You get the cool refreshment without the extra fat.
5. Alter your cooking methods. The temperature at which you cook your meat and the way you eat it -- i.e., well-done, rare, medium-rare, etc. -- is also extremely important to focus on. You should avoid cooking your meat at a very high temperature over long periods of time. Studies have linked overcooking meats at high temperatures to a possible increased risk of cancer due to chemicals called HCAs. Try cooking the meats medium-rare and removing any blackened or charred pieces. You can cook the meat partially in the oven before putting it on the grill to cut down cooking time, which gives the HCAs less time to form. Or use smaller pieces, which cook more quickly.
Although it's fine to splurge on occasion, go out of your way to use these tips at your next summer feast.
Follow Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joannadolgoffmd