Grill and Chill with a Heart Healthy BBQ

Summer is here! And not only is it time for fun in the sun, but it’s also the season for snacking on chips and dips, hot dogs, burgers, and ice cream. All of these treats are okay in moderation, but the excessive amounts of sodium and high fat content in pre-packaged foods can be detrimental to your health. Hundreds of studies, on thousands of patients, have drawn connections between red meat, sodium, and trans fats and hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to cut out barbecuing completely! This summer, focus on your heart health by ditching the hot dogs and pre-packaged hamburgers. Try these easy alternatives: 

Main Dishes:

  • Lean turkey burgers: Lean meats like chicken, turkey, or even 90% lean ground beef are a great alternative to full-fat hamburgers. Check out the recipe for homemade turkey burgers at the bottom of this page – and make sure to experiment with different seasonings and flavors

    two tacos with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese

  • Salmon burgers: An oily fish like salmon is a perfect example of good fats like omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike saturated or trans fats, omega-3 fatty acids can actually help lower your risk of heart disease. So toss a salmon burger on the grill, squeeze some lemon on it, and enjoy a fresh and tasty alternative to hamburgers.
  • BBQ jackfruit tacos: While these don’t go on the grill, crockpot bbq pulled “pork” is a delicious vegan addition to any barbecue. In this dish, jackfruit takes the place of meat, and is slow-cooked in a crockpot for hours until moist, tender, and flavorful. And the best part is it doesn’t have any of the trans-fats or the high sugar content of other barbecue dishes. 

Snacks & sides: 

  • Veggies and homemade ranch dressing: Nothing beats the crunch of celery, cucumber, or carrots dipped into cool ranch dressing on a hot day. This refreshing snack can be made easily at home with a package of ranch seasoning and greek yogurt for a healthy, high-protein alternative to a store-bought bottle of dressing.
  • Grilled corn on the cob: The quintessential summer BBQ side dish, corn on the cob is in-season and easy to cook! Simply remove the husks and boil the naked corn, or leave the husks on and cook over a grill for 5-10 minutes. Dress it up with chipotle, lime, cotija cheese and sour cream for a Mexican street corn twist, or keep it simple and eat it fresh off the grill! 
  • Potato salad: Another summer staple, potato salad can be made healthier by replacing mayonnaise with greek yogurt, olive oil, or avocado. deviled eggs with green in the middle instead of yellow
  • Avocado deviled eggs: The same healthy substitutions can be made for deviled eggs. Instead of mixing the hard boiled yolks with high-fat mayonnaise, try substituting a smashed avocado. 

Drinks & dessert:

  • Infused waters: Infused waters are a delicious alternative to high-sugar fruit juices. You can easily experiment with different flavors, but some classics are strawberry and basil, cucumber and mint, or watermelon and lime. Try it with sparkling water for a refreshing carbonated kick. 
  • Homemade lemonade: Pre-made lemonade mixes are 90% sugar, so try this instead: squeeze the juice of 6 lemons, add 1 tablespoon of local honey, and pour 3 cups of boiling water over it. Let this sit while the water cools, then add another 3 cups of cold water. Stir, and pour over ice for a healthier alternative! You can also add iced tea brewed at home to make an Arnold Palmer. Yum! 
  • Homemade popsicles: Homemade popsicles are a summer delicacy. Mix together whatever fruit you have on hand with your liquid of choice: almond milk, water, or fruit juice. You can blend it, or leave the fruit whole, and pour into popsicle molds if you have them, or ice cube trays. purple frozen yogurt in a bowl with blueberries and blackberries and a green spoon in it
  • Frozen yogurt with fresh fruit: Nothing can truly beat ice cream on a hot summer’s evening, but FroYo comes close! Pick up some from your local supermarket, or make your own by blending 4 cups of plain full fat yogurt (greek yogurt works too, but you’ll need to water it down some) with a ½ cup of sugar and then freezing. You can always add fresh fruit to the blender, or serve alongside the finished product. 

Staying healthy this summer doesn’t mean depriving yourself of your favorite barbecued foods and sweet treats. You can still enjoy the classics in moderation, but to keep on track with your heart health, try substituting healthier alternatives –  you never know, you might find a new favorite! 

Homemade Turkey Burgers

Adapted from a recipe in The New York Times 

Makes 4 patties.


½  small onion

1 pound ground turkey

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon mayonnaise 

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder or 2 diced fresh cloves of garlic

1 handful of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand

Freshly ground pepper, to taste


Preheat your grill to medium heat. All grills are different – be sure to check your burgers to ensure desired doneness. 

Mix the meat: 

Start by shredding the onion. Using a cheese grater is preferred, but you can finely mince the onion if you do not have a grater. Discard any leftover juice from the onion, and place in a bowl with the ground turkey, ketchup, mayonnaise, salt, garlic, pepper, and any herbs you are adding. Using your hands, mix until well combined. Divide the mixture into four balls, and press into ½ inch thick patties. Using your thumb, form an indent in the center of the patty, about half way through. Place patties on a preheated grill and cook to desired doneness. 

To serve: Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns with your favorite condiments, fresh lettuce or spinach, sliced tomato and red onions, and pickles.

About The Author:
Cassandra Love

With over a decade of helpful content experience Cassandra has dedicated her career to making sure people have access to relevant, easy to understand, and valuable information. After realizing a huge knowledge gap Cassandra spent years researching and working with health insurance companies to create accessible guides and articles to walk anyone through every aspect of the insurance process.

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