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Tips for a healthy BBQ

Barbequing is the epitome of Kiwi summer, but some techniques are better for your health than others. Dr. Catherine Wall, registered dietician and nutritional advisor to the Gut Foundation, has given us her recommendations to prepare a delicious and healthier BBQ.

Written by Dr. Catherine Wall, registered dietician and nutritional advisor to the Gut Foundation.


"I love BBQ season as it usually involves cooking outside with friends and family, shared cooking, pot luck dishes and the unique flavour that a barbeque imparts on food. Outdoor cooking and dining is part of our Kiwi culture and signals that summer is here! 

In my mind, a barbeque meal is not just about the meat. Cooking on a barbeque imparts a smokey flavour, charred appearance and hopefully not a burnt flavour! The smokey flavour is what gives barbequed food that unique flavour that is hard to achieve in your regular kitchen. However, the smokey flavour and the high heat cooking and charring of foods does change the chemical structure of food.

Barbeque cooking usually involves smoking and cooking on an open flame or hot plate at high temperature. Cooking at high heat, and charring or burning of food promotes the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCA). HCA is formed mostly in red meats, with less formed in white meat and fish and only small amounts in plant foods. All smoke, formed when fat or sugars drip on flames or from the burning of wood or coal, contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). PAH stick to surface of any foods cooked or touched by smoke. In Humans HCA and PAH can cause DNA damage after they have been activated by specific enzymes in our body. This process occurs more readily in some people than others and may increase risk of some cancers including stomach cancer. Follow some of my healthy barbeque tips reduce HCA and PAH in your barbeque meals."

Tips to reduce HCA:
  • Cook food briefly on the grill or hot plate to add colour and then move to the cooler area of the barbeque to finish cooking.
  • Try your steak medium rare rather than well done.
  • Mix up your barbeque proteins. Vegetarian options cooked at high temperatures contain less HCA than red meat.
  • Enjoy a smaller portion (ideally ¼ of the plate) of barbequed meat.
  • Sweetened marinades burn faster. Remove excess marinade from food before putting it on the barbeque. 
Tips to reduce PAH:
  • For the smokey flavour try cooking whole vegetables (e.g. eggplant, capsicum) and remove the charred skin before serving. For example gently char red capsicum until soft to touch. Place in a zip lock bag and leave to sweat. Once cool enough to touch, peel off the skin. Chop roughly and serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Wrap baking potatoes in tin foil and place in barbeque. Cook until the potato is soft and serve with garlic butter.
  • Enjoy non-barbequed salads and vegetables to accompany the barbequed food.