This article, entitled "Nutrition Doesn't Have to Go Up in Smoke," comes from partner site Best Food Facts.
Smoked meats, fruits, vegetables and other foods have grown in popularity, and more consumers are using backyard smokers to create their own smoked dishes. We talked about these trends here but wanted to look at the health aspects of smoked foods. We caught up with Sarah Downs, MBA, RDN, to learn more about nutritional aspects of smoked foods.
1. What health aspects do people need to consider when preparing food with their smokers?
Smoking can be a great way to add flavor without all the calories, fat and sodium. However, it’s important to remember that things like marinades, rubs and sauces can all add a large quantity of calories, fat, sodium, and even sugar, so use in moderation. Get creative and use herbs, healthy fats (like olive oil) and different types of citrus as a healthier way to get all the flavor.
2. How does the method of preparation (fried, grilled, smoked, etc.) affect the nutrition of foods (meat, fish and poultry, specifically)?
Heat can break down and destroy some vitamins in vegetables, especially vitamin C and B vitamins. However, heat can also make the carotenoids (a type of antioxidant found in things like carrots and tomatoes) easier for the body to absorb, make the biotin in eggs digestible and kill bacteria in food that can make us sick. As a rule of thumb when cooking fruits and vegetables, more nutrients will be retained when cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid are kept to a minimum.
With regard to meats, the methods that are the most nutritious are those that require minimal added fats. This includes grilling, broiling, baking, boiling and yes, smoking! It’s also important to stick with lean cuts of meats, fish and plant-based proteins.
3. Smoked meats, fish and poultry have been a popular food trend for the past year or so. How does smoking food specifically impact the nutritional value?
Smoking doesn’t really impact the nutritional value of meats specifically and can be a great method for added flavor without added fat.
4. What meats that are popular in backyard smokers are the healthiest (ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken, salmon, for example)?
Stick with meats that are lean like chicken breast, lean turkey, and flank steaks. Some other healthy options are fish (salmon is my favorite!), tofu and other plant-based protein sources.
5. How can different marinades or rubs affect the nutritional value of smoked and grilled meat and poultry? What should consumers look for when reading labels of marinades or rubs?
Some store-bought marinades and rubs can be high in sodium and calories, so it’s important to take a look at the nutrition facts label, or better yet, make your own! Start with olive oil and add in your favorite herbs and spices. Other flavors to add include mustard, lemon juice, low-sodium soy sauce and vinegar. To minimize calories, brush the marinade on at the end of cooking instead of letting it soak ahead of time.
6. Many other foods can be cooked on a grill or smoker. Vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes, peppers, corn, squash and tomatoes can be smoked. Any tips on which vegetables and side dishes provide nutritional advantages?
Heat can break down and destroy some vitamins in veggies ,but it can also increase other nutrients (like carotenoids in tomatoes and carrots). Veggies that retain the best nutrient content when heated are those that have low water content like mushrooms, onions, asparagus and peppers.
7. Fruits like peaches, apples, bananas and pineapples can be smoked as part of relishes. Does smoking fruits impact their nutritional value?
It can. As previously mentioned, heat can break down and destroy water-soluble vitamins in fruits and vegetables, like vitamin C. Similar to vegetables, for best results use fruits with a low water content or wrap them in aluminum foil when smoking to keep all the nutrients (and flavors) contained.