Thursday, July 23, 2015

Healthy Grilling & Is Diet More Important Than Exercise?

The Healthy BBQ  Did you have a great Fourth of July? – barbecues, baked beans, potato salad, pulled pork, beer & wine…luscious desserts...Monday morning regrets...and a few too many carcinogens with those ribs?

Besides the excess calories, grilling fatty meats at high heat creates harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).  These can be hazardous to your health - regular consumers of well done grilled meats were found to be 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer.

Marinades, particularly with spices & herbs can help reduce HCAs.  Rosemary has been found to reduce HCAs by up to 90% in some cases.  Using a marinade with wine or beer six hours before grilling can cut carcinogens by 40%. However, its been found than long marinating times seem to cut the antioxidant activity in the sauces.  So, a few hours is fine – overnight is not necessary.

Use Lower Heat & try to keep the temperature below 325°, but cook to an internal temperature of 160° for burgers.  Here's a chart of safe minimum cooking temperatures from

Precook In The Microwave – this reduces HCAs by 90%.  Just one or two minutes at medium can do the trick.  And it’s recommended that you discard the juice – HCAs concentrate there.

Add Veggies - Is there anything better than grilled veggies?  A nice mix of vegetables will add healthy nutrients & antioxidants. Try some zucchini, fennel, peppers, onions or other thin sliced vegetables tossed with olive oil before grilling.

Here are some smart &healthy BBQ recipes from for BBQ ribs, chicken, salmon, meatloaf, BBQ sandwiches, pork, and more.  Side dishes can be found here.

The MD Anderson Center also has good information on BBQ safety and cancer prevention, which is found here.

In the News:    For readers of the New York Times,  you may have come across an article by Aaron E. Carroll, MD entitled “To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercise More”.  Although Dr. Carroll cites evidence that exercise improves outcomes for weight loss, the title of the article, his reasoning, and conclusions are misleading.  With the prestige of the NY Times behind his article, the danger is that John Q. Public will stop exercising.

A rebuttal by John M. Jakicic, Ph.D., who is director of the Physical Activity & Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, points out  the role of physical activity in weight loss interventions.   In his article Dr. Carroll emphasizes that neither weight loss intervention – diet or exercise – is more important than the other.  He reasons that many people can lose weight, in the initial 3-6 months of almost any program, but that it is challenging to maintain that loss without physical activity.  Research has established that people lose & maintain the most weight loss with a combination of dietary changes and exercise.

Dr. Jakicic recommends eating appropriate portion sizes, following the current recommendations.  For exercise, 30 to 60 minutes of activity per day. which can be broken into 10 minute intervals, is also commonly recommended. Lastly, folks should try to increase more activity into their daily lives to increase daily total energy expenditure.

My Opinion – we do tend to focus on more exercise (eg. The Biggest Loser, & Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move program) as the key to weight loss, while tending to lose focus on the importance of a healthy diet.  Dr. Carroll’s contention is that even though Americans are exercising more, we are more obese than ever, so that, therefore, exercise isn’t working.  In fact, his article quotes studies that show exercise & diet are more effective than diet or exercise alone.  His other references are meta-studies which have a built in bias in that the researchers choose the studies they wish to include.  Meta-studies are not double blinded studies, but can give useful information if done correctly.  However, until those studies are validated (meaning the results can be repeated), I’ll go with the validated and verifiable exercise physiology & nutrition studies quoted by Dr. Jakicic.

The Bottom Line:  We could all eat more healthily and move more throughout the day - 30-60 minutes a day is really the minimum.  The NY Times article & headline could easily confuse those who don’t know the background of diet & exercise research.

Coming up:  What to order at the fast food place….shopping tips at the grocery store…

©Fitness Spark Personal Training, July 2015.

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