It’s that time of year to fire up the grill for outdoor entertainment—here’s a healthful tip: marinate lean meats ahead of time for delicious and healthy outdoor cuisine.

Why Marinate?

Marinating meats is a smart alternative to charring raw meat directly on the grill. Here’s why: According to the American Cancer Research Institute, cancer-causing agents (HCA’s) can be reduced by as much as 99% when foods are marinated in an acidic marinade. Marinating meats may help reduce potential cancer causing agents, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Choose Low-Sodium and Sugar

Gay Riley, MS, RD, CCN, a personal nutrition coach in Richardson, TX, who connects with clients through telephone conferences, email and the new  bodybugg™ armband technology (www.netnutritionist.com), says “Marinades like Worchester sauce, soy sauce and steak sauce can be high in sodium.” Check labels carefully and purchase low sodium products. Watch sugar intake. “If the marinade is high in sodium, which most bottled marinades are, read the label to see what the sugar content is; if it contains honey, sugar or fruit, then it’s high in sodium, but the calories are often burned off with cooking.”

Ingredient Options

Here are 3 cuisines plus Riley’s favorite marinade to accompany them:

Hawaiian
Pineapple juice, soy sauce and wine

Mexican 
Beer, lime, a little olive oil, and fajita seasoning

Middle Eastern   
Yogurt, turmeric, salt pepper and saffron; or Lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and minced onion

Marinate in the refrigerator. Keep in mind, an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice, vinegar, wine or yogurt must be included to tenderize. Never re-use leftover marinades. Do not marinate meat for more than 24 hours.

Spice It

Add fresh herbs and spice for taste and health benefits. “Garlic, onion, basil, rosemary, oregano, and all the herbs are flavorful and aromatic,” adds Riley. “I think Turmeric is by far the healthiest.  It has medicinal properties but really should be added close to the end of cooking.”

Smart Tips:

  • Cover foods
  • Keep foods refrigerated prior to grilling
  • Never marinate at room temperature.
  • Trim fat
  • Go lean
  • Remove poultry’s skin
  • Wash hands before and after handling raw meats
  • Marinade Recipes

Need more ideas? 

Marinades: Secrets of Great Grilling (Paperback) 

by Melanie Barnard; amazon.com

Asian Sauces and Marinades (Paperback) 

by Wendy Sweetser; amazon.com