14 BBQ Foods That Are Actually Good for You
Give one—or all!—of these grill-worthy options a try at your next cookout.
Available year-round, zucchini is best during the summer, especially if freshly plucked from your own garden. A delicious source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and fibre, it packs a nutritious punch for only 19 calories per cup. Simply seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, zucchini is delicious on the grill, says Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian in Columbia, South Carolina. “I like to make extra and use leftovers for pasta, salads, and sandwiches during the week.”
Corn on the cob is a good source of fibre, potassium, and vitamins C and B6. It’s also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that are linked to a reduced risk for macular degeneration, according to a review of studies published in 2015 in Journal of Ophthalmology. “There’s nothing better than sweet summer corn,” says Natalie Rizzo, a registered dietitian in New York City and founder of Nutrition à la Natalie. “I like to throw it on an indoor grill in the husks. It gives a nice smoky charred flavour. To make it a little special, top with cotija cheese and a squeeze of lime.”
“Many people don’t realize that you can grill avocado,” says Rizzo. “Just cut it in half, remove the pit and throw it face-down on the grill. It will get these beautiful grill marks and become warm and creamy.” Avocado is a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fibre, vitamin K, and folate. A study published in 2017 in Nutrients also found that an avocado a day can improve brain function in older adults. (Related: Learn more about the health benefits of avocados.)
Hamburger purists, listen up: A meatless burger can be just as tasty as a beef burger. Just ask Stephanie McKercher, a Colorado-based registered dietitian nutritionist, recipe developer, and founder of Grateful Grazer. She recommends using chickpeas, which boast 6 grams of fibre and 7 grams of protein per half-cup. Her Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Burgers are “made with lots of herbs and spices and a hearty mix of chickpeas and whole grains,” she says. “Even meat-lovers will want to give this one a try!”
These days, ancient grains appear more often at get-togethers than the standard pasta salad. A member of the wheat family, farro qualifies as an ancient grain. It has more fibre and protein than brown rice and contains magnesium which may help lower the risk of diabetes. “A swoon-worthy salad makes it easy to add a few fruits and veggies to your barbecue plate,” says McKercher. “I like to serve up farro with seasonal produce and creamy tahini dressing. It’s a crowd-pleasing summer favourite.” (Related: These other foods can help improve your overall health.)
Deli-style and supermarket coleslaws come with added sugar and mayonnaise. But home-made versions (that skip the mayo in favour of Greek yogurt) can be downright healthy. That’s because cabbage—the key ingredient—is rich in vitamins C and K. It also contains a compound called sulforaphane. Research, including a study published in 2018 in Journal of Molecular Neuropsychiatry, shows a link between sulforaphane and a healthier brain.
Potato salad (hold the mayo)
Potato salad is a staple at summer picnics and BBQs, but there are smarter ways to enjoy this vitamin C-rich tuber that also gives you a healthy dose of potassium and B vitamins. One way: ditch the mayo and use Greek yogurt or a vinegar-based dressing instead, suggests Jessica Levinson, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Westchester, New York and author of 52-Week Meal Planner: The Complete Guide to Planning Menus, Groceries, Recipes, and More. Another option: use vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. (Related: Give this Sweet Potato Salad recipe a try.)
Levinson suggests changing things up by grilling fish instead of burgers and hot dogs. Grilled salmon or salmon burgers are a delicious source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been linked to improved brain function and a reduced risk for depression, inflammation, and heart disease.
“One of my favourite things to toss on the grill is a lean cut of steak,” says Toby Amidor, a registered dietitian and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. And that’s not because she sees it as a guilty splurge. Steak is rich in protein, iron, zinc, and B6. Opt for lean cuts of meat that deliver less than 10 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat.
Grilled chicken kabob
You can’t beat a grilled kabob. Featuring chunks of low-fat chicken breast with vegetables like peppers, onions, and mushrooms, this versatile BBQ pick packs protein, vitamins C and A, and iron, zinc, and potassium in a tidy package of goodness. And men, eat your mushrooms! A study, published in 2015 in the journal Cancer, suggests that consuming mushroom powder may help lower PSA levels in men with prostate cancer.
What may seem like a nutritional no-no can be a healthy side dish (despite the added sugar). That’s because beans are nutritional powerhouses. Navy beans—a.k.a. haricot, white pea, and Boston beans—are an excellent source of protein and fibre. They also have a generous amount of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron. (Related: Give this Maple Apple Baked Beans recipe a try.)
An excellent BBQ option, grilled shrimp has about 100 calories and 20 grams of protein per 3 ounces. Shrimp also provide a nice mix of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are important nutrients for the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.
Plums and apricots
Use your grill for dessert by grilling stone fruits such as plums, peaches, and apricots, suggests Levinson. They’re especially juicy when grilled for just a few minutes and drizzled with honey. This delectable dessert will boost your day’s intake of vitamin C and A, as well as potassium.
“Grilled peaches are one of my favourite desserts at a BBQ,” says Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. “I like to drizzle grilled peaches with balsamic glaze for an extra bit of low-calorie flavour.” Peaches also contain flavonoids that may help protect against cancer. Peach skins, in particular, are rich in antioxidants, according to a study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Molecular Science.
Next, check out the healthy meals doctors and nutritionists make every day.