Easy and healthy summer barbecue tips

Summer is in full force, which means it's grilling season in backyards across the country. Between barbecued meats and fattening sides, summer parties can take a toll on your waistline. However, having fun in the sun and enjoying meals with friends and family doesn't mean you have to eat unhealthy food. There are plenty of ways to take advantage of barbecue season without sacrificing taste or blowing your balanced diet. Here are a few simple tips to make your summer barbecue healthier:

Swap red meat for fish
Many red meats, including beef, lamb and pork, can increase your risk for certain cancers if you consume them too often and in large amounts. A recent study showed that eating red meat regularly may even shorten your life, according to the National Institutes of Health. To lower your risk of disease, you can swap out your favorite red meat choices like hot dogs and hamburgers for healthy fish. Salmon burgers have fewer calories and lower fat content. Plus, they provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Other fish that do well on the grill are tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and snapper. While you don't need to completely cut red meat from your diet, save the burgers for those few, special occasions to indulge.

Buy chicken breasts
If you're going to throw chicken on the grill, purchases the breast part of the meat, which has less fat than the darker parts like thighs. Instead of using red meat, you can make chicken burgers for a delicious, healthier alternative. The choice of whether to remove the skin or leave it on is up to you, but you can cut more calories by taking it off prior to cooking. Brush chicken breasts with a little olive oil and grill with some onions for guilt-free added flavor.

Keep it green
Remember that your barbecue doesn't have to be all about classic American staples and meat. You can keep it healthy by grilling all kinds of vegetables in a variety of ways. Try piling mushrooms, zucchini, peppers and onions onto a skewer that you can easily grill. Marinate with a little olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. You can even substitute portabella mushrooms as meat for burgers. Instead of having some traditional barbecue side dishes like chips or potato salad, use fresh vegetables and fruits for low-calorie alternatives.