Celebrating the Fourth of July is often associated with unhealthy snacks, sandwiches and deep fried anything. So how do grillers find an alternative to this caloric ritual? Throw a few nontraditional options in the mix.
We've gathered up 10 surprisingly healthy foods you can grill up this holiday weekend, effectively helping you avoid the grease and guilt that comes with overindulging while you salute the red, white and blue. From strawberries to asparagus, you may just find your new favorite summer dish -- no heartburn required. Take a look at the suggestions below, eat up, then sit back and enjoy the pop of the fireworks.
We typically think of salad as the cold counterpart to a warm, grilled meal, but turns out that lettuce can go right on the grates with the rest of your dinner. Slice romaine hearts in half and drizzle with olive oil, suggests registered dietician Heather Bauer, founder of Bestowed.com. Then sprinkle salt and pepper over the lettuce and drizzle vinegar on all sides. "Grill the romaine until it's slightly charred and flip them over for about three minutes," she says.
With very few calories per serving, romaine is a rich source of vitamins A, K and C.
Grilling up watermelon slices can add a smoky flavor that intensifies the sweetness of this summer staple, Bauer says. She recommends cutting the fruit into slices, sprinkling on some salt and adding to the grill.
Watermelon is a great source of the antioxidant lycopene, which gives the fruit its signature color (it's also found in red tomatoes). Research has identified lycopene as a possible fighter against heart disease, Bauer explains, and there's also evidence that lycopene could prevent certain kinds of cancer, according to Physicians Committee.
Registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, recommends her personal "Farmer's Market Pizza" recipe for the grill.
Here's how to make it: start off with whole wheat pizza dough purchased from the store or local pizza shop. Roll it out with a rolling pin on a nonstick baking mat and then put the raw dough directly on the grill -- "Make sure [the] grill is hot otherwise the dough will stick," she cautions --until it comes off easily and has grill marks. Then take it off the grill with tongs, add toppings to the grilled side and put it back on the other side to cook.
Possible toppings include any leafy greens (like arugula, kale, watercress or even dandelion greens from your backyard), shaved asparagus, thin zucchini or yellow squash, basil, sliced tomatoes and a little bit of ricotta or parmesan cheese -- let the farmer's market guide you.
Here's a healthy barbecue twist: instead of traditional toppings, grill up a mango to top your burger, suggests Blatner.
Mangoes are a real superfruit, with tons of vitamins and minerals, she says. One sliced-up cup is a solid source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6 and vitamins A and C.
Throwing some skewers on the grill? Consider adding grapes between pieces of chicken or shrimp, Blatner recommends. Grapes have no fat or cholesterol and "virtually no sodium," she says. Plus they pack a powerful punch of vitamins C and K.
At just over 40 calories per serving, Portobello mushrooms are a healthy barbecue pick. "They also contain nutrients that are slightly harder to get from other foods, such as selenium. One medium Portobello mushroom supplies you with 21 percent of your daily recommended intake, as well as one third of your copper recommendations," Bauer says. "Even better, if you’re looking for an alternative of bananas for potassium, Portobello mushrooms contain just as much!"
She recommends starting off by cleaning the mushrooms and removing the stems. Then place the caps on a plate with the gills up. Combine olive oil, onion, garlic and vinegar in a bowl, and pour mixture on mushrooms. Leave the mushrooms alone for an hour and then cook for 10 minutes on the grill before serving.
"Grilling pineapple intensifies the flavor," Bauer says. She suggests cutting the fresh fruit into slices and sprinkling both sides with brown sugar and cinnamon about 30 minutes before you start grilling. Then cook for about five minutes on each side.
Pineapple clocks in at just 74 calories per cup and carries about half of your recommended daily vitamin C intake. It's also a source of dietary fiber and, according to Bauer, contains an enzyme called bromelain, which might help with digestion.
Blatner also suggests serving grilled pineapple with whipped cream or yogurt for dessert -- grilled bananas work well, too.
Here's a delicious way to up your veggie intake. Start off by cleaning and trimming the asparagus before placing them in a plastic bag, drizzling with olive oil and shaking to coat, Bauer recommends. Place them on the grill and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, rolling over as needed.
"Asparagus contains a wide spectrum of vitamins and nutrients from fiber and folate to Vitamins A, C, E and K," Bauer says.
Take this summertime favorite to the next level: Bauer recommends coating strawberries with balsamic vinegar, sprinkling them with sugar and grilling for one to two minutes.
These sweet berries have been linked to multiple health benefits, and one cup packs more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C at just under 50 calories. Plus, research has found that strawberries could help to decrease a woman's risk of heart attack.
Peaches -- one of the summer's best superfoods -- are a natural fit for the grill. Bauer suggests placing peach halves skin side down on a plate, squeezing lemon juice over the top and sprinkling with a dash of salt, sugar and cinnamon. Place the skin side on the grill with the lid closed for about three minutes -- turn over and grill the other side for about two.
"Peaches contain a variety of vitamins including Vitamin A, C, E, and K. They also contain potassium and fiber, so they have many health benefits and for only about 40 calories each," she says. "Summer is the perfect time to pick up peaches at the farmer’s market to get the freshest, juiciest fruits."