What Nutritionists Really Eat at a BBQ

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No summer is truly complete without the smell of the grill heating up hot dogs, burgers and other BBQ classics. But what if you want to enjoy great food without derailing your healthy diet? Bring in the experts: We asked some of the country’s top registered dietitian nutritionists to share their 10 go-to BBQ picks.

1. Vinegar-Based Slaw

Kitten meowing
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Simply switching up the mayo-based dressing in coleslaw can turn an otherwise fat-laden side dish into a superfood salad. “One of my BBQ picks is a vinegar-based slaw, which I make from shredded cabbage dressed with brown rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of “Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses -- the New Superfood.” “I then add a quarter of a fresh-squeezed orange, along with grated ginger root, minced garlic and black pepper.” Cabbage, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, helps protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer. And vinegar helps boost satiety (a feeling of fullness) and suppress body fat accumulation.

Related: Meet the Women Who Are Changing Health and Wellness

2. Grilled Corn

the cob cooked corn
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There’s nothing quite like the taste of sweet summer corn. “I love it husked, rubbed with olive oil, a little salt and pepper and wrapped in aluminum foil,” says Keri Gans, RDN, author of “The Small Change Diet.” “When cooked this way, there’s no need to slather it in butter.” Besides tasting delicious, corn is a rich source of fiber -- which aids in digestion -- and also contains other beneficial nutrients, including folate, thiamine, phosphorous and vitamin A.

3. Baked Beans

Baked beans in tomato sauce
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Baked beans make for a flavorful, nutritious side dish. “Baked beans are packed with slowly digested protein and deliver stick-to-your-ribs fiber, so they keep me super satisfied,” says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, co-author of “Healthy in a Hurry: Simple, Wholesome Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.” To keep baked beans on the lighter side, avoid high-calorie canned versions made with added preservatives and sweeteners. Instead, make your own with less salt and sugar and boost flavor by using spices like smoked paprika or chipotle powder.

4. Whole-Grain Pasta Salad With Veggies

Salad with cold pasta and mozzarella
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What you mix into your pasta salad can make or break the “salad” status of this popular BBQ side dish. A typical mayonnaise-based pasta salad is loaded with fat, carbs and sodium, but sparse in veggies and fiber. You can, however, easily flip those ratios. “To make one of my good-for-you versions of pasta salad, I start with a whole grain- or bean-based pasta,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.” “I often dress it with a fresh lemon vinaigrette, and I always include a generous amount of veggies.”

Related: For the Full Recipe -- Vegan Charred Asparagus Pasta Salad

5. Lean Steak

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A juicy steak on the grill is a favorite for any meat eater. “I'm a regular guy. Give me meat and I am happy,” says Jim White RD, ACSM exercise physiologist, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. “Steak provides me with protein which is critical for muscle growth, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.” The key to choosing leaner cuts of steak, which can be tougher, is how you cook them. “One of my favorites is flank steak for its affordability and versatility,” says Holley Grainger, MS, RD, culinary nutrition consultant and blogger. “Season flank steak then sear on both sides over a hot flame. Turn down the heat and let it cook. By cooking it slowly and slicing thinly across the grain, it is perfect for tacos, salads or just by itself.”

6. Seasonal Salads and Dips

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Summertime bursts with plenty of seasonal produce -- so make use of it! “Whenever I’m invited to a BBQ or summertime potluck, I usually bring a healthy seasonal salad or dip,” says McKenzie Hall Jones, RDN, blogger at NourishRDs. “My go-to salad is usually my black bean, mango and jicama salad, and my go-to dip is [one made from] tomato, black bean and avocado. Dishes like these are so flavorful and completely satisfying thanks to the healthy fats, fiber and plant-based protein.”

Related: 7 Salad Dressings That Will Make You Toss the Bottled Stuff

7. Potato Salad With a Lighter Dressing

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Potato salad is the quintessential comfort food. To boost its nutritional value, try using different-colored potatoes, add in veggies and lighten up the dressing. “My family requests regular appearances of my killer potato salad made with red, white and blue potatoes,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, founder of BonnieTaubDix.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.” Taub-Dix also adds in cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped yellow bell peppers and shredded carrots, along with reduced-fat mayonnaise and spices. “High in potassium, fiber, vitamin C and a host of powerful antioxidants, [the potato is a] cost-effective vegetable that’s easy to prepare, shop for and store,” she says.

Related: For the Full Recipe -- One Potato, Two Potato, Red, White & Blue Potato

8. Grilled Vegetables

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You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the flavors and health benefits of grilled vegetables. “All I do is marinate freshly sliced veggies with a bit of EVOO, lemon juice, garlic and herbs and grill them until they are golden,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of “Plant-Powered for Life.” “The nice thing about grilling is that you don’t have to add as much extra fat as you do when you pan-cook foods. The other thing is that you can cook them minimally -- just until they are crunchy tender -- so you are not destroying as many vitamins with long cooking times.”

9. Bunless Burger

Bunless burgers
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To balance calories while still enjoying the BBQ spread, dietitians often think outside the bun. “One thing I enjoy most at a BBQ is a medium rare, iron-rich burger. I always opt for bunless burgers topped with sliced tomato, which are delicious this time of year,” says Gans. Enjoying a protein-packed patty without the refined, white-carb bun is also a smart strategy for weight control. “My go-to BBQ meal is a grilled chicken breast, no bun,” says Ansel. “With 33 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of fat in a small grilled chicken breast, you can’t beat it as a source of lean protein to help you feel full for hours.

Related: 9 Must-Know Indoor Grilling Hacks

10. Raw Fruits and Vegetables

Bunless burgers
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Raw fruits and veggies are a no-frills, tasty way to stay hydrated at a BBQ. “Whether it’s a cucumber and tomato salad or a juicy wedge of watermelon, I try to fill my plate with lots of fresh produce,” says Grainger. “Many summer fruits and vegetables are not only low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, but they're also loaded with water.” When it comes to raw green salads, the secret is in the dressing. “I often make a large garden salad, dressed with a combo of balsamic vinegar and whisked with spicy brown mustard, dried Italian herb seasoning, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and minced garlic,” says Sass. “Leaving out the oil allows me to add sliced avocado or chopped almonds to the salad.”

What Do YOU Think?

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What's your go-to BBQ dish? Is there a healthy BBQ dish that you'd add to this list? Share with us in the comments section below!

Related: Tips to Host a Better & Healthier BBQ

Healthy Snacks to Eat With Guacamole

credit: Gracie Wilson/LIVESTRONG.COM Gracie Wilson/LIVESTRONG.COM
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No summer is truly complete without the smell of the grill heating up hot dogs, burgers and other BBQ classics. But what if you want to enjoy great food without derailing your healthy diet? Bring in the experts: We asked some of the country’s top registered dietitian nutritionists to share their 10 go-to BBQ picks.


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