Spring brings the start of barbecue season. Unfortunately, your New Year’s resolution was to eat healthy all year long. Does that mean you have to politely decline all the barbecue opportunities that may come your way? Not so!
Armed with the right information, you can make better choices at virtually any grill event. Here are a few “worst-case scenarios” and how you can get around them:
Scenario 1: Your only options are a hot dog or a burger.
Your best choice: The burger.
Why? A study in the journal Circulation showed that burgers were a better bet than hot dogs and other processed meats because processed meats were more likely to raise the risk of both heart disease and diabetes. Hot dogs contain nitrates that are used to process meat and preserve color, but they have also been linked to cancers in lab animals.
In addition, processed meats are usually higher in sodium — a problem if you’re watching your blood pressure. Just remember that the hamburger still contains a large amount of saturated fat and calories. Control how much you consume by requesting a smaller (4-ounce) portion — about the size of a deck of cards.
Scenario 2: The only toppings available are mayo, mustard, onions and ketchup.
Your best choices: Mustard and onions.
Why? You want to steer clear of mayonnaise, which may be high in saturated fat, and avoid ketchup because most grocery-store brands contain added sugars. A recent study found that diets high in added sugars increased the risk of heart disease by raising blood lipid levels.
So reach for the yellow (not brown) mustard. Yellow mustard gets its color from turmeric, a spice shown to reduce inflammation, which is the basis for many different health problems. And throw on some onions — they’re a great source of vitamin C and fiber.
Scenario 3: The only sides you see are potato salad and cole slaw.
Your best choice: Go with the cole slaw.
Why? First, determine if the side dishes are made with mayonnaise or with a vinaigrette base. Those with a vinaigrette base contain substantially less saturated fat. If they’re made with mayo, choose cole slaw over potato salad. Cole slaw is made with cabbage, a cruciferous vegetable high in vitamin K, which may help prevent prostate and bladder cancers. Just go easy on your portion sizes.
Remember that what you choose to eat at one barbecue won’t make or break your overall diet. At the end of the day, healthy living involves a number of factors — not just eating a diet high in plant-based foods and fish, and low in saturated fats and added sugars — but also getting regular physical activity and managing stress.