A barbecue doesn’t have to bust your calorie count

WASHINGTON — Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and that’s a perfect time for outdoor grilling and barbecue. But think of all that meat — hamburgers, chicken, steaks, hot dogs. Is it too much?

Lean Plate Club blogger Sally Squires said it’s not. The meat, poultry or fish that you cook on your grill has no more calories than it would if you cooked it in your oven.

“Six ounces of barbecued beef or pork has about 300 calories — that’s not bad,” Squires said. “Eight ounces of ribs are a little fattier. You will get a few more calories — about 500 to 600 calories.”

But two barbecued chicken wings only have about 250 calories. And total calories are what really count — accompanying foods such as buns and chips cause the real problems.

Squires said the word “barbecue” appears to come from the Haitian word “barbacoa” and “babracot,” believed to be from Guinean Indians, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Their methods included cooking fish and meat over a fire on a wooden grill of sticks set on posts. Of course, today’s barbecue is more apt to be prepared on a sleek stainless-steel grill fueled by propane, but the food itself hasn’t changed much.

Barbecuing does have one downside, she said: There is some concern that heating protein to really high temperatures can produce cancer-causing substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs.) But there are ways you can avoid HCAs.

“You can cook [proteins] partially in your microwave, then finish up on the grill. This helps cut 95 percent of HCAs. Also, flip your burgers often — about once every minute. This helps keep internal temperatures low, which can significantly cut HCAs.”

You can also marinate meat, poultry and seafood before cooking. A Lawrence Livermore study found that marinating with brown sugar, olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic, mustard, lemon juice and salt cut HCAs by 92 percent to 99 percent.

Cruciferous vegetables are also beneficial. They include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and they can all help reduce HCAs and activate enzymes that detoxify HCAs.

Other foods, such as fruit and vegetables, can be delicious on the grill, particularly corn on the cob, peaches and sweet potatoes.

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