The grill is a convenient cooking tool that allows the summer chef in your home to prepare a wide range of healthy foods. Throughout the warm weather months, consider using the grill to maximize the potential for a low-fat and heart healthy diet.

There is an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce available at your local farmers markets and grocers. Loaded with nutrients and low in calories, many fruits and veggies taste wonderful grilled. Some of the top choices include bell peppers, eggplant, sweet corn, summer squash, tomatoes, zucchini, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, and pineapples. Diets high in plant foods, regardless of how they are prepared, are associated with reduced risk of several cancers.

Grilling fruits bring out its natural sweetness as well as softens the outside skin. Harder fruits, such as apples and pineapples are easiest to prepare, but don’t be afraid to try softer fruits such as peaches and nectarines. When grilling fruit:

  • Pick a fresh firm fruit that is just short of being perfectly ripe.
  • Slice the fruit in half (you can keep the peel on) and soak it in water to maximize the amount of liquid inside so it stays moist on the grill.
  • If desired, you can add a little lemon juice to the soaking water to preserve the fruit’s color. Feel free to experiment with different spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg. Adding sugar is not necessary!
  • It is best to grill fruit over medium heat on a very clean cooking grate, although a higher temperature works best for some fruits such a cantaloupe.

Like fruits, most vegetables cook better and are less likely to stick if marinated first or brushed lightly with cooking oil. It may help to thread fruit or vegetables on skewers. Given the delicate nature of produce, grilling time may vary, but usually a few minutes will suffice.

Keep safety and health precautions in mind when grilling. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, grilling vegetables and fruit poses no cancer risk, but youshould take precautions in grilling any type of meat to reduce cancer-causing chemicals.

  • Select smaller, leaner cuts, such as used for kabobs, and limit your portion size. Choose fish as an alternative to hamburgers. Salmon, trout, and herring are high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and hold up well on the grill.
  • Some research suggests that even briefly marinating meat reduces the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. To make your own marinade, choose an acid-based liquid (e.g., vinegar, citrus juice, and tomatoes), a little bit of healthy fat (like olive oil) and some seasonings. Toss in freshly chopped oregano, parsley, thyme and rosemary in place of salt to keep the sodium count low. Chopped onion and garlic will also add flavor.
  • Grill your food on glowing embers, not on high flames. If you have a gas grill, keep it on medium instead of high. When fats and juices drip down onto an open flame, it can cause a flare-up which deposits unhealthy carcinogens onto your meat. Use a meat thermometer and don’t let your beef, pork, or lamb go above 160°F; chicken breasts and hotdogs should stay around 165°-170°F. Finally, flip meat frequently, which also reduces the amount of carcinogens that arise.

This cookout season make plant foods the focus of your meals. Fill at least 2/3 of your plate with grilled produce and other foods like salads, beans and grains. Enjoy food, family, fun and stay well-hydrated!

Sources: American Heart Association, American Institute for Cancer Research,Center for Disease Control and Prevention, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers.