Everyone loves a good barbecue, especially with the recent lovely weather. There is no reason your barbecue meals can’t be as healthy as your usual meals but there are some health risks associated with cooking on the barbecue. However, I have some easy to follow tips and suggestions that you can follow to reduce the risks associated with barbecuing foods and to keep your barbecue meals healthy and delicious. 

Minimise the health risks

Barbecue usually involves mostly meat with a few veggies on the side, but research has shown that grilling meats over a 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. These compounds have also been linked to other forms of cancer.

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. They are a great hearty option. However, if you are really craving 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.

It’s not all bad news…

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 or veggie burgers (made with plant based protein sources such as lentils, beans and quinoa) are 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.

Recipes to inspire you….

Seafood, pineapple and coconut kebabs

healthy delicious barbecue nutritionist
  • 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
  • lime wedges, to serve


  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.

Coleslaw With Tahini Dressing

healthy delicious barbecue nutritionist
  • 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


  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.