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How to Make Healthy Eating Choices at a 4th of July BBQ

For many people, the 4th of July is a time to enjoy cookouts and BBQs with family and friends. Use these 10 simple, quick and delicious tips so that everyone enjoys nutrient-dense, healthy foods as you celebrate the holiday.

  1. Marinate meat, chicken, pork and fish in lemon juice or vinegar to decrease the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), harmful chemicals that are increased by grilling. AGEs in foods increase oxidant stress and inflammation inside our body, which contribute to chronic disease like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Using an acidic ingredient in marinades like lemon juice or vinegar helps decrease the formation of AGEs.1

  2. Avoid charring foods on the grill to reduce the amount of harmful heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that may increase risk of developing cancer. Decrease the amount of time food is on the grill by pre-cooking foods in the microwave, turning the meat over several times during cooking, and scraping off any charred or black areas before eating to reduce HCA and PAH levels.2

  3. Choose meats lower in saturated fat to help reduce risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.3 Fish and seafood are lowest in saturated fat, with skinless chicken or turkey a close second. Choose red meats labeled as lean or extra lean. Lean beef contains less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3.5 ounce portion. Extra Lean beef contains less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5 ounce portion.4 Examples of extra lean cuts of beef are eye of round roast and steak, sirloin tip, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and streak, and top sirloin steak.

  4. If burgers are your favorite, choose lean ground beef and shape into 4-oz burgers that will weigh about 3 ounces when cooked. Leaner ground beef contains fewer calories, total fat, and saturated fat without sacrificing protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron, selenium and B vitamins. A 3-oz burger made from 70% lean beef contains 236 calories, 16 grams of total fat, and 6 grams of saturated fat while a 3-oz burger made from 95% lean ground beef contains 148 calories, 6 grams total fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat.5 Opt for a whole wheat bun and top the burger with favorite veggies like romaine lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and onion. Choose avocado instead of cheese for fantastic flavor and a healthier type of fat.

  5. Instead of a standard burger, try something new by grilling salmon burgers. Salmon is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and phosphorus.6

  6. Processed meats like sausage and hot dogs are strongly linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends avoiding processed meat on a daily basis, and enjoying bacon, deli meats, hot dogs or sausage only on special occasions – like the 4th of July.7 Read hot dog and sausage nutrition fact labels and choose ones that are lower in sodium and total fat. Avoid jumbo sizes, which contain twice the amount of calories, sodium and fat. Or try hot dogs made from chicken or tofu for a healthier version.

  7. Prepare shish kabobs to include vegetables with the chicken, pork, beef or fish. Eating more vegetables may help reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and help promote weight loss.8 In fact, set a goal to fill half your plate with vegetables, and include vegetables if you decide to get second portions.

  8. If you’re hosting a BBQ, include fruit for a great-tasting, naturally sweet dessert without added sugar. Sliced watermelon is a 4th of July favorite, or you can quickly make a fresh fruit bowl using red strawberries, blueberries, and white sliced bananas to fit the holiday theme.

  9. Bring a food that fits your nutrition goals to potluck events, like crunchy raw vegetables with hummus for a dip with protein and healthy types of fat, or a legume-based salad made with lentils, chickpeas, and chopped tomato, onion and cucumber packed with fiber, protein, and antioxidants.

  10. Make water your primary beverage, and avoid drinking sweetened beverages like sweet tea or lemonade. Sweetened beverages are the primary source of added sugar in our diet, and consuming too much added sugar is associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout.9


  1. Uribarri J, Wooruff S, Goodman S, et al. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(6):911-16.e12. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018.

  2. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet Reviewed October 19, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.

  3. O’Sullivan TA, Hafekost K, Mitrou F, Lawrence D. Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(9):e31-e42. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301492.

  4. United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Beef From Farm to Table. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/c33b69fe-7041-4f50-9dd0-d098f11d1f13/Beef_from_Farm_to_Table.pdf?MOD=AJPERES Updated August 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.

  5. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Ground Beef Calculator. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/beef/show Accessed 6-25-17

  6. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Salmon. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=104 Accessed June 25, 2017.

  7. American Cancer Society. World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html published 10-26-2015; accessed 6-24-2017

  8. United States Department of Agriculture. Choose My Plate. Vegetables. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health Accessed 6-20-17

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html Last update April 7, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2017