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Backyard barbecues are one of America’s favorite Fourth of July past times. If you have a barbeque planned for this year’s Independence Day celebration, you are partaking in a holiday tradition that is not only fun, but also offers up lots of flavor. Besides that, grilling can be a healthy way to prepare your favorite meat, vegetables, and even fruit.

One of the benefits of grilling is that it is lower in fat than other methods of cooking. When grilling meat, the fat drips off the meat, rather than it staying in the pan or on the baking sheet like in other cooking methods. In addition to this, grilling also eliminates much of the oil that is used for cooking, especially when compared to deep frying food, making it a lower calorie cooking method.

In addition to this, experimenting with grilling vegetables and fruit can help to complete your meal. Lending a unique flavor to fruit, the process of grilling fruit helps to caramelize the sugars, which brings out a flavor we oftentimes don’t get in other methods of cooking. In a similar way, grilling vegetables brings out delicious and distinctive flavors. Peppers, onions, mushrooms, corn, and asparagus are some tried-and-true options for grilled vegetables. Simply toss vegetables with a little oil and cook until tender. For fruits, pineapple, banana, peaches, strawberries and apples may be some tasty options to experiment with this holiday.

Not all grilled foods are created equal, though. As Americans, many of our favorite grilled foods, like brats, hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak, may be high in saturated fat or sodium, which are linked with health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Instead, choosing lean proteins, like turkey burgers, chicken or fish, can make grilling healthier.

Also beware that grilling produces substances harmful to our health because of the high temperatures food is cooked at. Research shows that these substances can cause inflammation and have been linked to certain types of cancer.

To decrease exposure to these harmful substances, cut excess fat from meats and use less oil when grilling vegetables, which helps to reduce fire flare ups that char foods. If charring does happen, simply cut off the burnt pieces and discard. Finally, pre-cooking food in the kitchen and finishing it on the grill can also help to decrease exposure to these harmful compounds.

So this Fourth of July, if you are one of the many Americans that will be firing up the grill, consider experimenting with something you haven’t tried before. Check out the recipes below for 2 fun ideas for your barbecue this year.

Grilled pineapple

  • 2 tablespoons dark honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 firm, ripe pineapple
  • 8 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes, or metal skewers
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler (grill). Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

To make the marinade, in a small bowl, combine the honey, olive oil, lime juice, cinnamon and cloves and whisk to blend. Set aside.

Cut off the crown of leaves and the base of the pineapple. Stand the pineapple upright and, using a large, sharp knife, pare off the skin, cutting downward just below the surface in long, vertical strips and leaving the small brown “eyes” on the fruit. Lay the pineapple on its side. Aligning the knife blade with the diagonal rows of eyes, cut a shallow furrow, following a spiral pattern around the pineapple, to remove all the eyes. Stand the peeled pineapple upright and cut it in half lengthwise. Place each pineapple half cut-side down and cut it lengthwise into four long wedges; slice away the core. Cut each wedge crosswise into three pieces. Thread the three pineapple pieces onto each skewer.

Lightly brush the pineapple with the marinade. Grill or broil, turning once and basting once or twice with the remaining marinade, until tender and golden, about 5 minutes on each side.

Remove the pineapple from the skewers and place on a platter or individual serving plates. Sprinkle with the lime zest. Serve hot or warm. (Recipe form Mayo Clinic)

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving (⅛ of pineapple and marinade): Calories 70, total carbohydrate 13 g, added sugars 0 g, dietary fiber 1 g, sodium 1 mg, total fat 2 g, trans fat 0 g, monounsaturated fat 1 g, cholesterol 0 mg

Grilled portobello mushroom burgers

  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps, 5 inches in diameter (about 12 ounces total)
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 whole-wheat buns, toasted
  • 4 slices tomato
  • 4 slices red onion
  • 2 bibb lettuce leaves, halved

Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove their stems. Place in a glass dish, stem (gill) side up.

To prepare the marinade, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper and olive oil. Drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, turning mushrooms once.

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Grill or broil the mushrooms on medium heat, turning often, until tender, about 5 minutes on each side. Baste with marinade to keep from drying out. Using tongs, transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

Place each mushroom on a bun and top with 1 tomato slice, 1 onion slice and ½ lettuce leaf. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 burgers.

Per burger: Calories 301, total carbohydrate 45 g, added sugars 3 g, dietary fiber 7 g, sodium 163 mg, total fat 9 g, saturated fat 1 g, trans fat 0 g, monounsaturated fat 6 g, cholesterol 0 mg, protein 10 g

Source: Mayo Clinic

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Rachel Wontor is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

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