The BBQ That's Good for You: This July 4th, Claim Independence From Unhealthy Grilling!

The lazy, hazy days of summer have arrived and with them come a few favorite seasonal accessories -- beach chairs, patio furniture, bathing suits and, of course, the barbecue grill. As that barbecue grill is brought out, so is the lingering question "Is barbecuing healthy?" and, you'll be happy to know the quick answer is "It can be!"

In the tradition of the French giving gifts to America to celebrate its freedom (remember The Statue of Liberty?), I give you my tips to free yourself from unnecessary barbecue worries and unhealthy barbecue habits - right in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

Choosing a Barbecue

There are several types of barbecues, and I recommend you use either a wood or coal fire barbecue or an electric barbecue. It's best to avoid gas barbecues, as the heat used to cook the food is produced by the combustion of either propane or butane. Since studies have not ruled out that food can absorb the residue produced by the combustion of these gases, it's best to stay away from this particular method.

As long as certain safety measures are taken, barbecuing is not dangerous to your health, and is not carcinogenic. The key is to avoid overcooking food so that the hydrocarbons (resulting from the combustion of wood and the resulting smoke) do not penetrate what you ultimately will put in your body! To cook food thoroughly without charring it, place the grill at least 10 centimeters above the coals, as studies have shown that hydrocarbons are non-existent in food cooked this far away from the heat. Plus, the less fat that drips onto the coals, the less the food is likely to contain hydrocarbons. (Remember: Grease + fire = smoke and flames!)

How Much is Too Much?

If these guidelines are followed, it is okay to have barbecued food one to two times a week. However, even though the ingestion of toxic substances is nonexistent when no gas is used, it is still advisable not to barbecue too often since minerals and antioxidants are destroyed when food is exposed to very high heat. For this reason, I like to grill meat, fish and shellfish, but not vegetables, as I don't want them to lose all their nutrients.

The Benefits of Barbecue

The advantage of the barbecue is that any fat in the food being cooked melts and drips off because of the high temperature of the grill. This is great, because it means you can allow yourself to splurge a little and eat meats which are a bit fattier, like lamb. Of course, that doesn't mean you should overindulge - continue to avoid very fatty foods like bacon and sausage.

Barbecue season is still a bit scary for those looking to lose weight or keep it off. A big factor is the accompaniments to a barbecued meal, including condiments like mayonnaise and heavy sauces like barbecue sauce and Béarnaise. Bread is also to blame - since the rolls found on the buffet are usually those made with white flour and boast a high glycemic index. Other potential pitfalls are the chips, beer, wine, mayonnaise-based salads and ice cream that are often served at cookouts and other summer picnics.

So what can you do to keep barbecue from wreaking havoc on your weight?

• Be imaginative! Vary your protein by trying different types of meat, fish and shellfish. Even though skewers of chicken, beef and lamb are most common, why not try "fish kebabs" - salmon, cod, hake and shrimp will work just as well!
• To keep meat and fish juicy with no added fat, remember to cook in parchment paper or aluminum foil.
• For the accompaniments go for raw salads, on their own, or mixed with a little brown rice or whole-wheat pasta.
• If you must have your burger on a bun, opt for whole wheat
• Fresh fruit salad is a yummy - and refreshing - dessert that is much lighter than ice cream and equally satisfying!

Happy barbecuing and bon appétit!