It’s official – the air is that little bit warmer, the grass is getting slightly longer, you can sometimes see blue sky between the clouds – BBQ season is upon us.
And what a delicious season. But what does your heart make of all the feasting, slouching around and drinking?
Whilst the odd spot of indulgence does not hurt if you already maintain a healthy, balanced diet, your heart isn’t all too happy about the slathering of saturated fats, sugars, salt and excessive portions that BBQs usually involve. These can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and lead to weight gain – all of which put added pressure on your heart.
However, there are a few small tweaks you can introduce for a healthier BBQ. These are our basic tips for how to have a deliciously simple, guilt-free BBQ that’s healthier for your heart.
Keep an eye on your portion sizes
BBQs are synonymous with consuming lots of food and drink over a prolonged period of time. There’s almost always too much food and the meal itself is styled as an ongoing buffet.
Keep in mind that portion sizes roughly translate as follows:
- 1 portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards
- 1 serving of a starchy side (e.g. potato salad) is about the size of your palm
- 1 tablespoon of salad dressing can contain between 50 and 100 calories
As such, take a good look at the food that’s on offer and decide what you really want to eat, and what you could easily forgo.
If possible, try and choose only one meat dish. If you have to have more, make your portion size of each smaller to compensate.
Instead of immediately shrugging off the salads, try to eat vegetable dishes first. This will ensure you get a good amount of minerals and vitamins from the meal whilst also capping your hunger, stopping you from binging on any salty, fatty food on offer.
To avoid overeating, eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to recognise how much is in your stomach, so take a break after you eat to lessen the temptation for another serving.
Go heavy on the veg
As stated above, vegetables should be a priority, not just a side dish.
Luckily, vegetables such as peppers, onions, sweetcorn, aubergine and asparagus all taste delicious when barbequed, either thrown directly on the grill or in a foil package with seasoning.
Avoid drowning salads or vegetable dishes in oils and store-bought sauces which can contain a high salt, fat and sugar content. Instead, opt for citrus juices, balsamic vinegar, or herbs and spices.
Make burgers healthier
Burgers are a great staple for most successful BBQs, but they usually come with a lot of saturated fat and high salt levels.
If permissible, opt for thinner (1/4 pound), lean mince burgers and be sure to stack lots of vegetables like lettuce, spinach and beetroot on top. Alternatively, make your own healthy burgers using lean mince and cooked whole grains – these add fibre whilst reducing saturated fat content.
Avoid adding fatty mayo, salty cheese, or sugary ketchup, and instead try boosting flavour with chopped chilies, mustard, salsa, hummus or guacamole, which can all be put together very easily.
You could always try ground turkey burgers or chicken burgers, which have a lower fat content. Help your heart even further by trying fish or vegetable burgers, which can provide essential oils and vitamins, as well as greater variety to your BBQ.
Choose wholegrain burger buns over white ones, since they contain more fibre which may help reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart diseases.
If you’re trying to cut down on carbohydrates, or would just like to safeguard room for other dishes, try swapping the burger bun for a large lettuce leaf, such as a Romaine heart leaf, or sandwich it between portobello mushrooms. If not, inject a little Scandinavian chic and try an open-faced burger.
Use lean meats
Rib-eye steaks, pork ribs, and sausages are have a high saturated fat content, which can raise cholesterol.
If you want to include red meats, such as beef, pork, venison and lamb, try and make portions sparing – no bigger than 70g cooked red meat per person. Choose leaner cuts, such as loin, and remove any visible fat before cooking. If your budget can stretch to it, try and get grass-fed steak tips.
Sausages are big offenders when it comes to saturated fat and salt content, and there’s very little saving grace. If you really must have sausages, always go for those with a high meat content and short list of ingredients.
Try substituting red meats for poultry, such as chicken and turkey. Opt for breast meat over darker, fattier meats from the thighs and legs, and remove any skins.
A good way of trying to cut down on meats from your BBQ is to cut them into small pieces before serving, combine them with salads or side dishes, or serve them on skewers.
Kebabs provide a meat-to-vegetable ratio made in heaven and are a good way of keeping your meal balanced. Try adding vegetables like pepper, courgettes and aubergines to your skewers and experiment with fruits such as pineapple, apples, mango and tomatoes. To make things healthier and more interesting, swap the meat for thick fish chunks which won’t flake.
Start including fish
A rich source of heart-healthy omega 3 and low in saturated fat, fish is a great meat for any BBQ. It also happens to be extremely easy to grill.
Try including oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, fresh tuna, whitebait and sardines, which contain larger amounts of essential oils than non-oily fish.
Either grill fish directly on the BBQ, make it into a burger, or wrap it up in a foil parcel with a bit of seasoning.
It is recommended that we consume at least two portions of fish per week, of which at least one should be oily. Try and buy fresh or frozen fish, and keep in mind that smoked and canned fish are often high in salt from preservatives.
Make your sides healthier
Try and cut down on excessive fat, starch, and calories by serving dark leafy greens or fruit-based salads instead of those based on mayonnaise and pasta.
Try making your own potato salad and coleslaw instead of getting it from the shops, so you can cut back on saturated fats from oils, sweeteners and creamy dressings.
You could always try using sweet potatoes or butternut squash to cut back on starch, and bake a few pieces of pitta to replace endless piles of salty crisps. Alternatively, wrap a few jacket potatoes in foil and leave them to cook slowly on the BBQ.
Avoid sugary store-bought BBQ sauce, ketchup and fatty mayonnaise, and try other alternative healthy flavourings. There are several healthy natural flavourings available that work perfectly with meats as well as vegetables. Why not see some of our healthy salt alternatives to get a few ideas?
The weather will hopefully be warm and you might be sipping alcohol with your meal.
As such, you should drink water regularly and try staggering any alcohol consumption, drinking a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
Be mindful that alcohol can also have quite a high calorie content, with a 175ml glass of wine and a pint of 5% strength beer containing 160 and 215 calories, respectively. You’ll probably actually want to eat some of the barbequed food, so avoid consuming excessive calories from alcohol.
For more information on food portioning and recommended daily intakes, see our nutrition guidelines.