5 Heart-Healthy Summer Grilling Tips

Grilled meat


As summer approaches full swing and the smell of burning charcoal fills the warm air, the time-honored tradition of cooking meat on the grill is summoned in the hearts of men and women across the nation. Speaking of the heart, let's talk about what decisions you can make on your cookout to keep your heart healthy.

Not all meat is created equally. With the vast smorgasbord of available cuts found at your local grocery store or butcher, it helps to know what is best for those with heart disease. While some cuts that are higher in fat (like the ribeye) may be tender, they contain high concentration of fats (aka marbling) and should be avoided. Instead, look for anything with the words "round" or "loin" as they tend to be the lowest in fat once grilled and if cooked low and slow are even more tender. Also, look for the words "choice" or "select" rather than prime. These will have less fat and are higher quality as inspected by the USDA.

Unfortunately, fat is flavor. As the name suggests, 80% lean ground beef contains higher fat concentration than 90% or 95% lean meat. Because of this, the flavor is much more robust, and makes a much better burger than with the 95% burger, unfortunately for your heart. The way around this is to look for alternatives that can be juicy and flavorful other than beef. Ground turkey can be quite tasty and does require an internal temperature of 160 degrees when cooked. A way to get the flavor sealed in is to knead the patty with your desired dry spices with a heart-healthy alternative like extra virgin olive oil, and cook the patty on a stove under a lid. Once the patty is finished cooking, briefly throw it on the grill over a high heat to sear the edges and seal in the juice. Do NOT squeeze the patty, as this will release your sealed-in flavor.

Know the alternatives. Beef and other more exotic red meats tend to have the highest cholesterol and should be replaced if possible with chicken, turkey, and fish. When properly grilled, fish such as salmon and tuna have very high concentration of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 acids. Add some dill, lemon, and olive oil to a salmon fillet and wrap with tin foil, cooking an average of 10 minutes per inch or until the top cracks and loses bounce when depressed. If you do it right, the foil will adhere to the fish skin and peel right off, making your grilled fish plate-ready in no time without the smell in your kitchen.

The devil is in the details. We all love sauces, marinades, dips, and chips in the grilling season, but beware of the hidden calories lurking in these items. More importantly, the salt content is very high on these "flavor" aids, and should be judiciously used by anyone with congestive heart failure or kidney disease, as the "low salt" options tend to replace sodium salt with potassium salt and are equally harmful. Instead use a natural sea salt or Himalayan pink salt for robust flavor while minimizing the fluid retention issues of regular table salt. Use healthy substitutes to flavor your burger such as hummus, swiss cheese, avocado, homemade salsa, or anything you find at the local farmers market. Fresh always wins when your heart is at stake.

Know your resources! Ask a well-reputed butcher what they recommend and you would be surprised what heart-healthy selections already exist from the experts! Have a great and safe summer grilling season!

John Russell, APN, is an advanced practice nurse at SAMG/Cardiothoracic Surgery. John provides both outpatient and inpatient cardiothoracic surgical care.