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The Five Worst Foods to Eat at Your Labor Day Barbecue

August 28, 2014

As summer draws to a close, our busy schedules begin to pick back up with the start of the school year, our kids’ activities and hectic workdays. Although the leisurely days of summer are almost gone, we still have one more chance to sit back, relax and spend quality time with our friends and family—Labor Day.

Marked as the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is a great time to take a trip to the beach, lounge by the pool and enjoy delicious food at a barbecue. In fact, barbecues are one of the most popular ways to celebrate Labor Day, with thousands being held across the United States each year.

While we may enjoy indulging in popular barbecue foods, like hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and coleslaw, they aren’t necessarily the best options to make for a Labor Day celebration. In fact, they’re usually some of the worst foods you can have at a barbecue. Now, you may be thinking, “I know, I know. They may not be the healthiest choices, but it’s a barbecue. What else would I eat?”

Sure, we all love to enjoy a heaping helping of these delicious barbecue staples on Labor Day, but what if I told you that you could eat many of these same foods with a simple, healthy twist that still tastes great?

It’s true. There are simple ways to modify your favorite barbecue foods to make them a bit healthier without sacrificing taste. And the best part is that it doesn’t take any more effort than buying a few different ingredients or changing the way you cook it.

Here, I’ve provided a list of the five worst foods to have at a Labor Day barbecue, as well as some suggestions to help you tweak your recipes without giving up any of that great barbecue taste.


This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but steak is high on this list for good reason. Steak is a form of red meat, and numerous studies have shown that eating too much red meat comes with plenty of health risks, including heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. Not only that, but grilling meat at high temperatures produces chemical compounds that have been linked to cancer in animals and humans.

So, what’s my recommendation? Try partially cooking the meat in the oven or microwave before putting it on the grill. This will help cut down on the high-temperature grilling time, which will ultimately reduce the amount of harmful chemicals. Additionally, you can season your meat with a variety of herbs and spices, such as rosemary, garlic and onion, or you can use an acidic marinade, like vinegar. This may also help reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds on grilled meat.

Or, if you’d rather not eat steak, try grilling vegetables instead. Personally, I enjoy making kabobs with a variety of veggies, including mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers.

Processed Meats

Processed meat, which includes things like hot dogs, bacon and sausage, is any type of meat that is preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. While these foods are quite popular at Labor Day barbecues, they have been shown to contribute to a number of health problems.

In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding processed meats altogether because they have been linked to certain types of cancers. Specifically, many processed meats, such as hot dogs, contain nitrates and nitrites, which are chemical compounds that have been linked to colon cancer.

Now, if you’re a hot dog or bacon lover, don’t worry—you don’t have to give them up entirely. However, my recommendation would be to pay closer attention to what you’re buying. For example, it’s best to avoid cheaper brands, and instead, aim to buy organic brands that are nitrate- and nitrite-free.

Potato Salad

Potato salad is often a barbecue must-have. However, the reality is that it’s not usually a healthy dish because it contains a lot of mayonnaise. While the potatoes may be good for you, mayonnaise is high in sodium, cholesterol and fat.

However, there are ways to modify this classic dish without using any mayonnaise. First of all, I always recommend making your own potato salad, instead of the store-bought kind. Then, instead of making a mayonnaise-based salad, try making a Greek-style version with tomatoes, herbs, olive oil and vinegar. You can also replace the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt or a flavorful mustard and still get that same delicious taste.


Did you know that one cup of a margarita can contain as much as 60 grams of sugar? Due to the high sugar content found in this drink, I typically recommend avoiding margaritas and trying a different alcoholic beverage instead. My suggestion would be to drink light beer or wine, or you can make cocktails mixed with low-calorie juices as well.


Many of us love to add ketchup or some other type of condiment to our burgers and hot dogs, but in most cases, they’re a barbecue food we should avoid. While they may be popular, condiments are high in fat and sodium content—and you might be surprised to learn that they contain a lot of sugar too.

Although condiments aren’t the healthiest option, there are other ways to add flavor to your food. For example, try making your own barbecue sauce from scratch. It’s easy to do, and it’s much healthier for you too. You can also replace standard condiments with avocado, plain Greek yogurt, a simple vinaigrette or a flavorful mustard.

For more information on how to make a healthy barbecue plate, take a look at these tips from the American Heart Association.