Health Column: Vegetable grilling is safe, nutritious choice

American Institute for Cancer Research certified nutritionist and registered dietician Karen Collins provides information on healthy choices to make in planning your meals and snacks.

Q: What kinds of vegetables are suitable for grilling?
A: Some of the classic vegetable choices for grilling include asparagus, corn on the cob, onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Most of these can be grilled whole, as well as chopped and cooked in a grill basket or cut into chunks and skewered to make vegetable kabobs. Brush or toss them with a small amount of olive oil. Cooked on a grill at medium-high heat, most are ready after about three to five minutes per side. More dense vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes and eggplant may need double that time or more, depending on how large the pieces are. You can even grill vegetables in advance and serve them at room temperature on their own or in salads. Grilling brings out marvelous flavors in many vegetables, and it does not lead to the development of cancer-causing substances formed when meat and poultry are grilled.

Q: Is there any difference in the antioxidant levels of regular and decaf coffees and teas? Also, despite the antioxidant benefits, isn’t the caffeine still bad for you?
A: Compared to decaf, regular green tea contains about three times as much EGCG, the antioxidant phytochemical that has shown cancer-prevention effects in some laboratory studies. Similarly, decaf black tea, which contains another, less-studied antioxidant called theorubigin, has about 50 percent less than its regular counterpart. Limited research suggests that chlorogenic acid, one of the main antioxidants in coffee, may be lower in decaf coffee as well. However, even with decaf versions, the true antioxidant benefits you receive depends on how much you drink.
As for concerns about caffeine, when consumed in moderation, it may not be as bad as you think. Some studies now suggest that caffeine’s purported role in increasing blood pressure may not be linked as strongly to coffee and tea. Note that people with sleep difficulties, however, do need to be careful about the amount and timing of caffeine consumption. Also, most health experts suggest that pregnant women limit total daily caffeine from coffee, soft drinks and other sources to about 300 milligrams, the equivalent of three 6-ounce cups of regular coffee.

Q: Are iced-coffee drinks a sensible treat if I’m watching my weight?
A: A simple iced coffee or even an iced latte made with skim milk isn’t a problem if you leave out added flavorings and whipped cream and choose the smallest size. A 12-ounce iced latte or cappuccino made with skim milk usually contains about 130 calories; if made with 2 percent milk it might be closer to 160 calories. But if you add flavored syrups, whipped cream topping and other ingredients, the calorie content rises sharply. Portion size is key. The largest size at most of today’s popular coffee bars is usually 24 ounces and sometimes more. Order a large, and you could be getting up to 700 calories, lots of additional fat and almost a half-cup of sugar. Even if you skip the whipped cream, these jumbo servings still provide about 450 calories. While you may be looking for a light, refreshing snack, what you may get is a drink that’s equivalent to one or two portions of dessert. To enjoy iced coffee drinks without wreaking havoc on your diet, order nonfat versions, skip the whipped cream and slowly savor a small portion. If you’re very thirsty, quench your thirst with a cool glass of water first and then you’ll be able to fully savor your icy treat.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.