Summer is finally here.
The days are longer and warmer weather has hit. Berry season and the fireflies have made their return.
We all have our own beautiful summer memories. Camping, visiting the beach, sailing or barbecuing with friends and family on the weekends.
However, something is lurking in those family gatherings and events. Toxic food.
While I am certified in nutrition and fully endorse a nutrient-dense diet, I am also human. I can relate and even sympathize that it can surely be hard to eat healthy during a get-together or while traveling, especially when you cannot control the quality of your food.
But I promise you, even in the slimmest of chances, there is always something healthier you can opt for. And when we can make better choices for ourselves and our families, we can all benefit long term when it comes to our health.
So below I've listed 5 simple tips for a healthier summer bbq (or really all-season long). Some tips of course relate to hosting or cooking yourself, while others are more related to eating out at a family gathering. However, all tips are great to be aware of regardless. I hope you find these easier to add to your lifestyle than you think!
1. Choose Grass-Fed, Pasture Raised or Organic Meat
Skip the conventional meats loaded with additives, preservatives and animals fed a genetically modified diet with antibiotics. Try a local farmer to source your meat or opt for organic meats in the supermarket. That includes hot dogs! Look for uncured, nitrate-free brands and animals that were grass-fed.
2. Marinade First and Shorten the Grill Time
All meat contains an amino acid called creatine as well as naturally derived sugars. When grilled at very high temperatures, a carcinogen called HCA (heterocyclic amines) is formed (1). This is the same compound found in cigarette smoke!
Now, there are a few ways to reduce HCAs in meat while grilling.
First is to marinade your meat prior to throwing on the grill. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that a teriyaki marinade reduced HCAs by 67 percent (2). The key to your marinade is to not add more sugar to it, add an acid like vinegar or citrus juice and keep it thin (no thickeners or thick bbq sauce).
Second is to not overcook your meat. One study showed that the total HCA content in well-done meat was 3.5 times higher than that of medium-rare meat (3).
Last, vegetables do not contain the combination of creatine and sugars, and therefore do not create HCAs when grilled. Cook all the organic veggies (or fruit) you'd like! Great grilling veggies are zucchini, portabella mushrooms and asparagus. If you feel adventurous try grilling some fruit watermelon, peaches or pineapple!
2. Add Sauerkraut or Pickles to your Dish
Naturally fermented raw sauerkraut and pickles do not contain any additives or vinegar of any kind. These foods support the gut and digestive system, while providing your body with a natural probiotic. Add the juice to your child's meals if they do not like either food.
4. Skip or Replace the Bun.
Skip those white flour (Dare I say even gluten free! Gasp!) buns. Opt for a lettuce-wrapped burger or a loaded hot dog with all the trimmings on a plate with lots of veggies and side dishes. If you don't want to miss out on eating some bread for a special occasion, try some locally made, organic sourdough bread as a bun instead. Real sourdough contains no yeast and, due to a different fermentation method, can be digested more easily by the body than most breads.
5. Absolutely NO Soda.
Sorry, that's a hard pass for me. Even on a holiday or summer vacation. There are just too many health consequences to this sugar-laden drink. And the sugar-free versions are even worse!
In an independent, peer-reviewed study by the British Medical Journal, they found that 12 year olds who drank soda consistently were 60 percent more likely to become obese.
Another study showed that drinking just one soda per day increases your risk of diabetes by 85 percent!
For a more in-depth article about the health dangers of soda by Dr. Joseph Mercola, click here.
If you MUST have something bubbly, try a fermented drink like kombucha, water kefir, or just a plain seltzer with fresh squeezed lemon or lime.
Just making these few, small changes during your holiday or summer bbq can change the course of your health and your children's health if done consistently.
Finally, if you are going to a family gathering, offer to bring something you know that you can eat. This will make it easier to control the quality of food you and your family consume. If not, just try to eat only real foods and nothing packaged. Real fruit, veggies, meat and side dishes. Drink more water (sometimes your body just wants to be hydrated, not fueled per say) and try to forget about the chips, cookies, sugary desserts and breads/buns.
And the rest? Just relax and let it be. If eating well is already a part your routine at home, then an occasional meal out won't completely throw you off course. Stressing about eating can cause more physical issues too. So just make the best decisions you can for you and your family and let go of the rest.
Wishing you a beautiful summer holiday!