Guilt-free Grilling Tips for Summer BBQs

By Jared Koch, founder of Clean Plates

Fire up the grill -- it's BBQ season! However, many of us don't stop to consider the quality of the burgers and hot dogs we throw on the grill. Improving the quality of the same foods you're used to eating can have profoundly positive effects on your health, without sacrificing pleasure -- in fact, it usually leads to better tasting food! Here's how:

Go au natural

Summer comes with bare skin and natural tones, so try to eat with the theme. The best type of meat is sustainable, ideally pastured grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. When animals live in their natural environment and roam in a pasture, eat grass and soak up the sun they are healthiest and thus the most nutritious. By consuming sustainably raised meats you'll also avoid the negative effects of excess hormones and antibiotics, and the consequences of factory farming. This is one of the easiest and yet most important steps toward eating healthier and more sustainably (while actually improving the flavor of your food).

A word of caution: Avoid processed meats, which are loaded with salt and nitrates, like hot dogs and bratwurst. If you choose to indulge, look for nitrate-free hot dogs made from grass-fed beef.

For seafood, choose wild or at least organically farm-raised fish. Pick up some cod or wild Alaskan salmon, which are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and stay away from fish with higher concentrations of mercury like swordfish and tuna. Check the sustainability of your choices with the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Blue Ocean Institute.

Prepare for heat

Choosing marinades and cooking methods carefully can help avoid nasty chemicals called HCAs, which have been linked to cancer. They form when cooking meats at high temperatures over long periods of time (which makes it dry and tough, too). Try cooking meats to medium-rare and removing any blackened or charred pieces; cooking smaller pieces gives HCAs less time to form.

It's best to use a low- or no-sugar marinade to avoid charring. Marinating meat in red wine or beer for six hours prior to grilling has been shown to substantially reduce the amount of HCAs (though the meat will be mushy).

Don't forget to accessorize

Skip the chips and fries and go for greens on the side. Complement the meal with lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale or spinach. Enjoy some raw in salad, and cooked. These vegetables (and produce in general) provide your body with nutrients to counteract some of the harmful effects of other foods. Check out your farmers' market and choose locally grown, organic produce for the best nutrition and taste.

Instead of using traditional condiments full of corn syrup, sugar and preservatives, opt for ones with better ingredients. Some ketchups and BBQ sauces now use healthier sweeteners, and some good mustards use apple cider vinegar and turmeric. Both your health and your palate benefit when you season food with simple, quality ingredients like olive oil, sea salt, garlic and fresh herbs, all of which promote health. Don't forget to utilize better quality breads for buns; sprouted grains are great.

Have fun!

A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule. Aim to eat really healthfully 80 percent of the time; if you indulge the other 20 percent of the time, the body will have nutrients to better support it.

Food is the main focus of nutrition, but being with friends and family and having fun also contributes to overall good health. Be sure to enjoy the time off and reduce your stress as much as possible. Keep cool and enjoy the rest of summer!