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Bring on the barbecue

Everyone loves a good barbecue, especially with our recent lovely weather. There is no reason your barbecue meals can’t be as healthy as your usual meals. Here is some information about the risks associated with barbecuing foods and how to keep your barbecue meals healthy and delicious.

Barbecue usually involves mostly meat with a few veggies on the side, but research has shown that grilling meats at high heat may cause the carcinogens heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form. One study found that people who consume well-done meat— barbecued, pan fried, or grilled—on a regular basis were 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer. Longer cooking times might also increase the risk of stomach, lung, and breast cancer.

Bring on the barbecue

However this does not mean you have to give up your burgers just yet! There are ways you can minimise your exposure to these molecules through changing your cooking and preparation methods:

  • A 2008 study found that spicy marinades may decrease HCA formation, in addition to this certain spices are packed with antioxidants that may help to eliminate HCAs in the cooking process. One study showed that adding spices, such as thyme, sage, and garlic, may reduce the amount of total HCAs by 60% compared to the control.
  • Don’t forget beer and wine…for your marinade. We know red wine is full of antioxidants, and this can carry over in your marinades. Marinating beef in red wine for six hours before grilling was shown to decrease the amount of carcinogens.
  • Meat should not be well-done. Studies have shown that higher temperatures lead to an increase in HCAs. Cook your meat more slowly at a lower temperature, ideally below 160C, which is the temperature at which HCAs begin to form. Buy a meat thermometer so you know when your food is done.
  • Pre-cook meat in the microwave . Studies have shown that microwaving meat for two minutes prior to cooking decreased HCAs by 90%.
  • Grilled veggies offer that same hot-off-the-grill taste but don’t contain carcinogens like their meaty counterparts. are a great hearty option. However, if you crave grilled meat, make kebabs. Using half meat, half veggies is healthier and cuts down on the HCAs.

Another harmful product in our foods that we need to watch for are advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

The reactions that take place in cooking any foods may lower the nutritional value and create toxic/carcinogenic end products, including AGEs, also known as glycotoxins. This is especially true with barbecuing. Once in the body, AGEs have been shown to negatively affect a majority of cells, tissues, and organs and are thought to contribute to conditions such as inflammation, atheroschlerosis, muscle loss and insulin resistance. AGEs can be created inside our body with aging and high blood sugar so it is advisable to minimize our intake through food.

The diagram below shows foods and their AGE content

foods and their AGE content
Foods and their AGE content

Barbecue without harming your health!

So by now you may be wondering what you can put on your barbecue without harming your health! It’s not all bad news – following the tips above for marinating, pre-cooking and also keeping your barbecue grill clear of burnt on fat and meat juices could help a lot to minimise exposure to HCA/PAH/AGE s. There are many ways of using your barbecue to prepare a healthy meal without eating burnt burgers and sausages!

  • Choose your protein wisely:

Fish, skinless chicken breast and lean ground poultry are all healthier choices. Fish like salmon and trout may have benefits from their healthy fat content.  Marinated fish fillets can be cooked in foil parcels, colourful kebabs can be made from chicken and vegetables, burgers can be made healthier by using turkey mince mixed with the beef or by adding chopped mushrooms, onions and herbs.

  • Remember portion sizes:

A healthy portion of any type of meat is about 90g, or the size of a deck of cards, and really no more than 180g. If that sounds small, remember there are lots of delicious grilled vegetables and other side dishes that you can have. This is a good time to make a few different salads and increase your phytonutrient intake.

  • Add in lots of colour:

So many colourful fruits and veggies can be put on the barbecue, alone or in kebabs, for example asparagus, avocado, peppers, sweetcorn, aubergine, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, squash and courgette.

Here are some recipes to inspire you to create a healthier barbecue:

(Source: BBC Good food and Jamie Oliver)

Prawn Skewers

  • 16 large, unpeeled raw king prawns
  • 500g mixture of boneless salmon and white fish fillets, skinned and cut into chunky pieces
  • 200ml can coconut milk
  • 100g fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 85g desiccated coconut
  • drizzle of oil
  • limewedges, to serve
Scewers on barbecue
Scewers on barbecue


  1. You’ll need 8 skewers. If using wooden ones, soak for 30 mins before cooking. Fire up the barbecue and allow the flames to subside before cooking, or heat a griddle pan until smoking hot.
  2. Toss together the prawns, fish, coconut milk and some seasoning in a bowl, then thread onto skewers, together with the pineapple chunks. Tip the desiccated coconut onto a plate and roll each fish kebab in it, pressing on the coconut to help it stick. Dab the kebabs with a little oil and cook for 3-4 mins each side until the prawns turn pink and the fish is cooked through. Serve with lime wedges.

Red Cabbage Salad

  • 1½ tbsp tahini paste
  • 5 tbsp Greek-style natural yogurt
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small red cabbage, quartered and finely sliced
  • 3 small carrots, cut into fine matchsticks
  • 1 small onion, halved and finely sliced
Red cabbage salad
Red cabbage salad


  1. Put the tahini, yogurt, garlic, and some seasoning in a large bowl and mix until smooth. The dressing will thicken so add 2-3 tbsps cold water to loosen it. Add the vegetables to the dressing, and toss together until everything is well coated.

Sweet Chilli Potatoe Wedges

  • 4 large sweet potatoes , scrubbed clean
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 125 g Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese
  • 4 spring onions , trimmed
  • 1-2 fresh red chillies
  • soured cream (to serve)
Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes


  1. Set up your barbecue for the heat canyon technique by placing coals on opposite sides of the barbecue to make two heat walls – this will create sections of hot, direct heat on the sides, with an indirect, cooler area in the middle to ensure your meat gets consistent heat throughout the cook. Cover with the lid and allow to heat up like an outdoor oven – you want a temperature of around 175°C/345°F.
  2. Rub the sweet potatoes all over with a drizzle of oil and a good pinch of salt. Place on the middle of the barbecue, cover with the lid and bake for around 1 hour, or until soft in the middle and crisp on the outside. Meanwhile, fry the bacon (if using) in a pan over a high heat (you can do this on the hob) until golden and crisp, then set aside for later.
  3. Split the potatoes open, crumble in the bacon (if using) and grate over the cheese. Return to the indirect heat on the barbecue for a further 5 to 10 minutes with the lid on, or until the cheese has melted. Finely slice the spring onions and chilli then sprinkle them over the potatoes, serve with spoonfuls of soured cream and devour.

Green Veggie Burgers

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 250g bag spinach
  • 5 slices white bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs (or 150g dried breadcrumbs)
  • good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 100g mature cheddar, grated
  • 40g parmesan, finely grated
  • 1-2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
Green veggie burgers
Green veggie burgers


  1. Heat half the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions for about 10 mins until pale and soft, then leave to cool a little.
  2. Finely chop the spinach in a food processor and tip into a bowl. Add the cooled onion, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cheddar and Parmesan, and mash together. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time (you may not need all of it), until the mixture holds together. Divide into eight (see tip below) and shape into fat burgers.
  3. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, season well and dip the burgers into the flour to coat. Store in a plastic container between layers of baking parchment. Either chill until ready to cook, or freeze.
  4. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan and fry for about 5 mins each side until browned all over. Serve in crusty rolls, with a couple of slices of tomato, ketchup and sweet potato fries on the side, if you like.

My mission is to help people to ditch the idea of a “quick fix”. I aim to educate clients about long term sustainable lifestyle and dietary changes that will put an end to unhealthy yo-yo dieting and help to address health issues.

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