Tailgating for Gains

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Tailgating For Gains: A Health Guide to Tailgate and Keep Your Gains!

28 day challenge

With Football season upon us, Baseball Playoffs here and the overall love of tailgating we decided to share some tips on how to BBQ healthy and still have a great time.

Choose healthy proteins

Ditch the hamburgers and hot dogs. Red meats like pork, lamb and beef, and processed meats like hot dogs, ham, sausage and bacon can increase your risk for colorectal cancer.

Instead, choose healthier proteins such as:

  • Skinless chicken
  • Turkey breasts
  • Fish

“These options are lower in fat and can help you maintain a lean body weight,” Maxson says.

If you must keep hamburgers and hot dogs on the menu, choose low-fat and preservative-free meats. And, limit red meat to no more than 18 oz. – that’s six 3 oz. servings (each serving is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards) – each week to curb your cancer risk.

In addition, it’s important to cook your meats properly to avoid exposure to cancer-causing substances. Some ways to do this include:

  • Not charring or burning meat.
  • Using a marinade.
  • Trimming the fat.

Find more suggestions in this healthier ways to grill meat guide.

Choose in-season fruits and vegetables

Add a variety of colors to your plate with fruits and vegetables. “They’re loaded with phytonutrients, antioxidants and vitamins to help prevent cancer and improve overall health,” Maxson says. Plus, eating more plant foods makes it easier to reduce body fat and maintain a healthy weight.  

Maxson suggests grilling onions, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, corn on the cob and watermelon. Choose foods in season to enjoy the most flavors. To cook:

  • Lightly oil the grill to keep food from sticking.
  • Chop but don’t peel veggies and leave corn on the cob whole and in the husk. The peels provide more nutrients and a smokier flavor.
  • Use skewers, foil or a grilling pan as helpful cooking tools.
  • Marinate or add a dash of seasoning to maximize flavor. For fruit, try cinnamon.

Also, fresh, chopped fruits and veggies are perfect add-ins for tossed salads. But when it comes to pasta and potato salads, you’ll need to make a few additional changes

  • Use low-fat mayonnaise or replace half the mayo with non-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Choose light salad dressing and use less than what the recipe requires.
  • Pick whole wheat pasta.

Create fresh fruit dessertsshortcake

Good news: the apple crisp and peach cobbler can remain on your picnic table. Just make sure you don’t overindulge.

“You can create healthy, delicious desserts using fresh fruits and little or no added sugar,” Maxson says. Your healthiest dessert options include:

Think Healthy Grilling

Barbecue grub doesn’t have to be fat-laden or sauce-heavy. There are a lot of ways to add nutritional value and lighten up traditional tailgating foods:

  • Bring some lean meat patties to the party (93% lean – or more – ground turkey or beef is best).
  • Opt for healthy burger fixings like avocado, tomato, and lettuce.
  • Forgo the cheese to save about 100 calories and at least 5 grams of saturated fat.
  • Whole wheat buns are easy to find, so pick some up for next week’s party.
  • Stick to mustard, which is lower in calories and carbs than ketchup.
  • If opting for brats, sausages, or hot dogs, choose those that have less than 3 grams of fat per ounce. 
  • If beef is your meat of choice, choose a leaner cut like sirloin, t-bone, or flank steak.
  • Try sliders instead of full-size burgers – buy mini buns or whole wheat rolls and fill them with mini meat patties, small steaks, or barbecued chicken. Better yet, try our Healthy Mexican Sliders.
  • Grill up some chicken kabobs but include some zucchini squash, peppers, and onions on each skewer.
  • Keep the idea of a healthy chili or stew in your back pocket for the colder months of football season. Pack extra veggies into your chili and opt for lean protein like chicken or lean ground beef. Our Veggie Chili is another hearty choice that your guests will love!

For even more healthy barbecue ideas, check out our article – Healthy Grilling – Beyond Burgers!

Over-Snacking – How to Beat It!


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Tailgates and football parties typically center around a spread of endless snacks and treats. With a dozen or so dips, chips, and baked goods to choose from, it’s easy to graze and overeat.

But easy on the chips, pretzels, and cookies – they’re dense in calories and carbs, and also low in nutrients. There are so many other nutritious, yet tasty sides and snacks to choose from. Here are some options that you might find on the table or that you can bring to the party yourself:

More tips for tighter snacking control:

For many people, the “out of sight, out of mind” tactic works. Park your folding chair away from the food table. Focus on the game and put your energy into cheering on your team and catching up with friends.

Take a small appetizer plate and fill it with the snacks you’ll have at the party. Keep in mind your meal plan and portion sizes. Resist going back for seconds and eat your snacks slowly so you really enjoy them!

It can also help you and others when you provide the nutrition information for any dish that you bring. Guests can use it to check portion sizes and carbohydrate counts!

The Alcohol Factor

Good food is a must when you’re tailgating, but you should also expect to encounter a sizeable selection of alcoholic beverages. Whether or not to drink can be a challenging issue for those who are watching their weight or managing diabetes. If you have diabetes and want to drink alcohol, here are a few steps to take to make sure you stay safe on game day:

  • Check with your health care team about whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol. For example, if you have neuropathy, drinking alcohol can worsen your symptoms.
  • Always eat food if you drink an alcoholic beverage.  Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is processed differently than food and can cause low blood glucose levels.  Because of the calories in alcoholic beverages, many people try to cut back on their food intake.  This is a mistake and can increase your risk of severe hypoglycemia – particularly if you take insulin or a pill that lowers blood glucose levels. 
  • Stick to no more than 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women.  (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1 ½ ounces of distilled spirits or 5 oz of wine.)
  • To stay safe, check your blood glucose levels to see how alcohol affects you.
  • Keep in mind that any alcohol you drink can cause you to make poor decisions when it comes to your diet. You can still enjoy a drink or two, but stay in control and do your best to make healthy choices.

Alcoholic drinks can also be high in calories, and they’ll add up quickly when you have more than one drink. Stay away from sugary mixers and drinks like punch, margaritas, and heavy beers. Some lighter options to consider are light beer or wine spritzers.

You should also make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available. Whether it’s Crystal Light lemonade or diet soda, bring your favorite zero-calorie drink so you have another beverage option. 

Take a Half-Time Fitness Break

If you go to a friend’s house to watch the big game, take advantage of the break at half-time. Use that time to get up and move around a bit.

  • Grab a buddy and head out for a walk
  • Get the group together for a pickup football game in the yard
  • Help your host clear some plates and clean a few dishes in the kitchen

If you’re tailgating in anticipation of watching the game live, don’t forget to bring your own football to the party. Instead of spending the whole tailgate eating, drinking, and sitting in a camping chair, make an effort to get up and walk around every few minutes. Walk around the parking lot to check out some of the other tailgates or play some catch with another fellow fan.

Football season doesn’t have to be the off-season for your healthy diet. There are many ways you can put a healthy spin on your tailgate or game watch. Be sure to check out this month’s recipes, on-the-go tips, and our sample meal plan to see how you can stay healthy this season!

Research shows that common meats served at barbecues, like hot dogs and hamburgers, can increase colorectal cancer risks. Even some ‘safer’ meats can expose people to cancer-causing agents if they’re cooked improperly.

Instead of tempting yourself with potato chips and hot dogs, make this delicious spread of healthy updates to your pre-game favorites.

Adults can avoid cancer-causing agents when they barbecue by using the healthy grilling tips in the new infographic, “How to fill a healthy barbecue plate,” created by experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Some people may be reconsidering plans to grill hot dogs and steak based on a new report supporting the link between red and processed meats, and increased colorectal cancer risk. But, experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say that small changes to what — and how — you grill can keep cancer off the menu.

“The good news is that you can do something to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer,” says Sally Scroggs, health education manager at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. “And, making just a few cooking adjustments when grilling can play a part in prevention.”

Scroggs recommends these tips for a healthier barbecue.

1. Avoid processed meats.

Skip processed meats like bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, sausage, hot dogs and pepperoni.

Cancer-causing substances form when these meats are preserved, says the American Institute for Cancer Research. And, eating these meats can damage a person’s DNA, increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

2. Limit red meat.

Eating too much red meat like pork, lamb and beef (including hamburgers) can raise a person’s cancer risk. Try grilling skinless chicken breasts and fish instead.

Insist on red meat? “Limit yourself to three, six-ounce (cooked) servings per week,” Scroggs says. “One serving is the size of two decks of cards.”

3. Don’t char or burn meat, poultry or fish.

Charring, burning or grilling meat, poultry and fish over high temperatures causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. These HCAs can damage a person’s genes, raising the risk for stomach and colorectal cancers.

To avoid HCAs:

  • Stick with fish. Fish contains less fat and cooks faster than meat and poultry.
  • Lightly oil the grill. This keeps charred materials from sticking to your food.
  • Pre-cook food. Cook meat, poultry or fish in the microwave or oven for two to five minutes, then finish them on the grill. Less grill time means less exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Lower the temperature. For a charcoal grill, spread the coals thinly or prop the grill rack on bricks. This reduces the heat by increasing the distance between your food and the coals. And, use barbecue briquettes and hardwood products, such as hickory and maple. They burn at lower temperatures than softwood (pine) chips.
  • Scrub the grill. Cleaning the grill after each use prevents harmful chemicals from building up and transferring to your food.

4. Use a marinade.

Marinating meat in vinegar, lemon juice and herbs such as mint, rosemary, tarragon or sage can reduce HCA formation by as much as 96%. Just 30 minutes can help.

5. Trim the fat.

Cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form in the smoke when fat from meat, poultry or fish drips onto the heat source. That PAH-filled smoke then coats your food.

Curb exposure to PAHs by trimming fat from meat before grilling. Or, choose cuts labeled “lean.”

6. Showcase
fruits and veggies.

No barbecue should be a meat-only affair. Grilling fruits and veggies is a great way to load up on vitamins and nutrients that help your body fight off diseases like cancer.

“For some grilling enthusiasts, these changes might initially be a lot to stomach,” Scroggs says. “But updating how you barbecue may mean you continue to enjoy grilling for many summers to come.”

How to fill a healthy BBQ plate


From Visually.

Grill plant-based foods

Eating mostly plant-based foods provides a range of nutrients that protects the body from cancer. And it is a great way to manage weight, which is important because there is evidence that excessive body fat increases cancer risks.

“Try a new vegetable every week, one that you have not tried in many years,” Piper said. “My family favorites are grilled onions, zucchini, asparagus and pineapple.”

Use a light brushing of canola or olive oil on vegetables and fruits to help prevent sticking to the grill. Sprinkle vegetables with pepper, a small amount of salt and vinegar to bring out their taste. Using non-stick grates, foil packets or a grilling basket lightly coated with oil also can be helpful when grilling plant-based foods. As a general rule, don’t peel vegetables before grilling. You’ll get more nutrients and enjoy a smokier flavor if they aren’t peeled.

Where’s the beef?

Diets high in red meat (beef, pork and lamb), and especially processed meats (such as hot dogs), have been reported to be a convincing cause of colorectal cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Fatty red meat is high in saturated fat, which is the most damaging type of fat.

“You do not need to give up red meat to be healthy, but the evidence suggests you would be wise to limit how much you eat,” Piper said. “Experiment with other healthier sources of protein, such as fish, chicken, beans, edamame or tofu. My red meat-loving husband has grown to enjoy more grilled salmon, marinated chicken and even hummus!”

Grill fish and skinless chicken breasts are much leaner than most red meat. If you are going to grill red meat, look for those with “loin” in the name, such as beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin and lamb loin chops. For beef, also look for round steaks and roasts, and choose ground beef labeled at least 95 percent lean. Finally, beef labeled “prime” is the top grade but also is the highest in fat. For the leanest red meat, look for a “select” grade at your supermarket.

Keep meat portions small by cutting them in chunks and removing excess fat. Combine them with vegetables and make kabobs. Serve any kind of meat as an accent to a meal rather than the main dish.

Where there’s smoke, there’s cancer risk

Grilling any type of meat, even chicken or fish, until it’s charred or burned can increase your chances of getting cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Grilling vegetables and fruits does not create carcinogens (sources that cause cancer) so there is no cancer risk, which is just one more reason to add them to your shopping list.

If you do choose to barbeque meat, stay clear of burning it, and follow these tips:

  • Grill fish instead. Fish contains less fat than meat and poultry do, making it less likely to create carcinogens and cause flare-ups caused by dripping fat. Fish also requires less time on the grill, reducing its exposure to carcinogens.
  • Precook your foods. The higher the temperature at which food cooks and the longer it stays on the grill, the more carcinogens develop. Partially cooking meat or poultry indoors for two to five minutes draws out most of the potentially harmful chemicals without sacrificing moistness. Heat your meat up in the microwave or oven, and then finish it on the grill.
  • Lightly oil your grill. A little oil keeps charred material from sticking to the food. It also helps keep fish and chicken in one piece.
  • Lower the heat. On charcoal grills, increase the distance between the food and the hot coals by spreading the coals thin or by propping the grill rack on bricks. On gas grills, just lower the settings.
  • Stick to charcoal and hardwood. Barbecue briquettes and hardwood products, such as hickory and maple burn at lower temperatures than softwood (pine) chips.
  • Clean your grill. Scrub your grill thoroughly after every use to avoid a buildup of carcinogens that can be transferred to your food the next time you grill.
  • Spread aluminum foil on the grill. This will reduce flare-ups. Just make sure to make small holes in the foil to allow fat to drain.
  • Flip meat frequently. This reduces the amount of carcinogens that arise.
  • Marinate your food. Marinating not only makes grilled foods taste better, but makes them safer because marinades draw out chemical precursors of carcinogens.

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