Is Grilled Food Healthy?

by Derek Helderman ; Updated May 21, 2018

Grilling has long been a favorite pastime for many Americans. Though typically an outdoor, warm weather activity, many people enjoy grilling year round. Depending on how the food is prepared before grilling and during the cooking process, grilling can be a healthier alternative to other cooking methods like pan frying, deep frying and sautéing.

The History of Grilling

Humans learned how to start a fire between 40 and 50 thousand years ago. Shortly thereafter, they started using fire to cook things to eat. In more recent history, grilling has become a favorite pastime during family gatherings, camping trips and sporting events. Modern grills allow for even heat distribution and regulation and many cookbooks are now geared specifically towards recipes that focus on grilling.

Other Methods of Cooking

Though a common choice, grilling is certainly not the only means of food preparation. More traditional methods include deep fat frying, pan frying or sautéing, and baking. Deep fat frying accomplishes cooking food via submerging food in heated fat like vegetable oil. Pan frying or sautéing involves cooking food in a pan with a small amount of heated oil and quickly moving the food around the pan. Baking cooks food by heating it in an oven or some other type of enclosed space. Compared to deep fat frying and sautéing, grilling can be a healthier option if excess fat is not added to the food being cooked.

Grilling Safety

As with any form of cooking, proper food handling techniques and cooking all food to minimum internal temperature is crucial. If food is handled improperly or not cooked thoroughly, foodborne illness become a serious concern. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F; poultry to 165 F; pork must be cooked to 145 F and seafood is properly cooked at 145 F.

Types of Grills

There are two major types of grills: Propane gas grills and charcoal grills. Though grilling is often a healthier option in terms of nutrition, some concerns have been raised over the possible connection between charcoal grills and cancer risk. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, charring or burning meat causes heterocyclic amines to form, which can increase the risk for stomach and colorectal cancers. In addition, they recommend cleaning your grill after each use to prevent chemical build up which can then be transferred to your food.

Making Grilled Food Healthier

Though grilling is a healthier option than deep fat or pan frying, you can prepare the food in a way to make it even healthier. Marinating food before grilling in a mix that does not contain fat, and seasoning with lemon juice or garlic rather than salt will impart a lot of flavor and save precious calories and reduce the sodium content of the finished dish. Grilling should be a fun activity, and it can be a part of a healthy diet.

Read More: How to Grill Squash and Zucchini in Foil

About the Author

Derek Helderman is a Bariatric Registered Dietitian currently working in a nutrition counseling role. Helderman graduated summa cum laude from Southeast Missouri State and completed his dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.