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Fire up a healthy summer barbecue

By Elaine Pelc, Special to The Baltimore Sun

3:13 PM EDT, July 17, 2012

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Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth), which is printed here. This week, Elaine Pelc weighs in on barbecuing.

Grilling can be a very healthful cooking method that does not lack in flavor. The grill's flames help to develop rich, smoky flavors in some pretty standard fare. Cooking on the grill can be so versatile, you can prepare appetizers, side dishes, main courses and even dessert.

The first step is choosing your protein. Make it lean: Skinless chicken breast, ground turkey, fish or shellfish are some options.

While the grill adds a lot of flavor to meats, it is nice to add extra seasoning to the protein, but go easy on sauces and salt. Try marinades or glazes with healthy ingredients like fresh herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, vinegar and mustard to add flavor to the meal without adding a lot of calories. impact. An example could be this chipotle-and-orange chicken from Eatingwell.com:

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons unsulfured molasses

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

Just whisk the ingredients together and brush over chicken multiple times while grilling.

Now think about your vegetables. The variety of fresh fruit and veggies available is almost endless. Farmers' markets are popping up all over the place, making fresh produce accessible to more people than in the past. Most vegetables taste great grilled. Try squash, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, onions eggplant, corn or peppers. Almost all veggies can be grilled in a kebab, while some can hold up on their own directly on the grill, or in a grill basket.

Side dishes are often the "unhealthy pitfall" of a summer barbecue. Try to choose lighter, vegetable-based salads instead of something heavy like pasta. Although, even with vegetable-based salads, you need to be conscious of the sauce or dressing. Choose something vinegar- or mustard-based instead of something with mayonnaise. For example, try something like this tropical cucumber salad from EatingWell.com:

3-5 teaspoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 medium English cucumber, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 avocado, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 mango, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk the first 7 ingredients together and then add remaining ingredients, mix well and chill.

Don't forget dessert. Instead of a heavy cake or pastry, try grilling stone fruits (plums, peaches, apricots or nectarines) and pineapple, and serve them with a scoop of frozen yogurt. Or if you are up for something a little more elaborate try grilled berry crisps from WholeLiving.com:

(Yields 1 serving)

3/4 cup fresh berries

1/4 teaspoon raw sugar

Granola

Cut one 12-by-16-inch rectangle each of foil and parchment. Arrange berries in the center of parchment and sprinkle with sugar. Crumple up in foil and cook, covered, on grill grates or coals for five to seven minutes, or until berries begin to burst. Top with granola. Serve with frozen yogurt or some low-fat whipped cream.

Barbecuing can be healthful and tasty, and it doesn't require any extra work to make it that way. Be creative and use what's in season as inspiration. The Internet is full of resources for healthful summer recipes.

Remember: When grilling, just as with any other means of cooking, it is important to remember to prepare your food safely to prevent cross contamination and food-borne illness. Keep your meats chilled in the fridge until ready to cook, and use different tools to prepare your meats and vegetables. Check out fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/barbecue_food_safety/ for more information on making your barbecue a safe one.