Published: September 19, 2012
This is a guest post from our great friends at IBeafoodie a website devoted to cooking for Crohn’s and Colitis. I highly suggest checking out the site!
The Health Benefits of Grilling for the General Population and Those with Chronic Intestinal Diseases.
Cooking methods have a significant impact on the quality and health of the food you consume. For those of you who are grilling aficionados, we are happy to report that grilling is one of the healthier ways to prepare food.
While attending a BBQ or grilling competition is not a place for diet and self-deprivation, grilling meat does happen to reduce the fat content of meat. The fat drips off as the food cooks, meaning the caloric value of the food is reduced. The high heat from the grill seals in moisture and keeps food tender so there’s no need to add oil or butter during the cooking process. One can use seasonings and marinades to add flavor and moisture to grilled food, instead of adding fats such as butter or oil.
In addition to lowering the fat content, grilling helps ensure that you get more value out of your food. The shorter cooking time results in a minimal loss of moisture and vitamins from the food. In addition, vitamins are often leached out of foods while cooking, but when you grill foods, you place them under or above a dry heat source, and the food is cooked by thermal radiation. While minerals are unaffected by heat or water, vitamins are sensitive to heat and water, meaning they can be lost during the cooking process. The dry cooking method and shorter cooking time associated with grilling helps preserve the nutrient content of the food.
There are differences in heat temperatures needed when grilling different kinds and sizes of food, and the old adage ‘low and slow’ is often relevant for large chunks of meat. The lowered heat is beneficial because any nutrients that are sensitive to high heat will be retained. As Rich has explained to us numerous times, a central principle of grilling is letting meat tenderize slowly over low heat.
For those individuals with chronic diseases who have chronic intestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, and whose immune system has been impaired by medications, the health benefits of grilling are even more salient.
First, the lowered fat and use of added fats content of grilled food is incredibly important to those individuals who have trouble digesting fat. It is important to choose lean cuts of meat to grill if fat is a trigger for you. We recognize that part of the fun of grilling may be choosing fattier cuts of meat, but try grilling fish or chicken instead of the usual hotdog or hamburger. When preparing the meat, you can also cut off any visible pieces of fat.
Second, due to the high temperatures of grilling, this cooking method helps kill the bacteria residing in food. Those with impaired immune systems are especially vulnerable to food-borne illness. Certain food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli and salmonella, are present in meat, and cooking the meats at a high temperature and for a long enough period of time will kill these bacteria, especially if you avoid rare-cooked foods. Using a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat is cooked all the way through is another good way to avoid consuming food-borne bacteria. Looking at it or even cutting it open is not as safe as using a thermometer.
Third, grilling is a versatile cooking technique, meaning that recipes can be modified in almost any way. For example, if you are roasting peppers, you can roast them first and then peel off the skin if the fibrous skin is a trigger for you. If sauces, marinades, or other seasonings bother you, you can just grill the food and still get that smoky flavor. You can also grill pizza or fish. Ask our friend GWR about his mean grilled pizza. You won’t find better elsewhere! Many individuals with chronic intestinal diseases are often scared of grilling because of the fatty meats, skin on the meat, seeds, and onions, but there are always ways to work around the trouble food. Eat a non-seeded bun if seeds bother you, peel the skin off meat, and in general, avoid foods that are triggers for you.
Is it better to use a gas or charcoal grill? A gas grill burns much cleaner than charcoal. While charcoal adds a smoky flavor that many people love, it gives off certain unhealthy substances. Individuals with chronic intestinal diseases often have impaired immune systems, and there are compounds related to grilling that may not bother healthy people but may adversely affect those with these diseases. Some of these compounds, like nitrates and nitrites, can be avoided to some extent by food choices, while other unhealthy compounds in the meat can be reduced by using certain grilling techniques. Avoiding processed meats with nitrates and nitrites is a good start, but marinating your meat can reduce formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have the potential to cause cancer. Marinating, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, can cut HCA formation by up to 99%. Some evidence points to the acids (vinegar and citrus) or antioxidant content (source: aicr.com). In addition, cut off any charred portions of meat, as charring has been associated with increasing certain forms of cancer. With an impaired immune system to being with, a Crohn’s patient shouldn’t eat anything that can increase his/her risk of cancer.
The health benefits of grilling are numerous for those in the general population, and are particularly relevant for those with chronic intestinal issues. No matter your health condition, if you follow these guidelines you should be able to enjoy any BBQ with family and friends.