Summer often brings social events like picnics in the park and outdoor barbecues. It also typically brings thick burgers, hot dogs with all the condiments, fried chicken and ice cream — all of which can quickly undo a more active summer lifestyle.
However, if you choose carefully, you can savor the freshest tastes of the season while keeping your weight in check. Registered dietitian Anna Taylor shares some key strategies for selecting the best summer foods, while passing the worst choices by.
1. Say ‘yes’ to fruit and veggies
Bring on the berries. Or watermelon. Or sweet corn. Or pretty much any other summer fruits and vegetables.
Fruit and veggies are typically low in calories and rich in nutrients. So help yourself to summer’s colorful produce. It will not only help you stay slim, it will also give you an energy boost for swimming or other calorie-burning summer activities.
2. Choose carefully at picnics
It’s awfully tempting, but that fried chicken that’s a staple at many picnics is among the worst foods you can choose. Fried foods “can add inches to your waistline within hours of eating them,” says Ms. Taylor. Processed meats (e.g., ham, bologna), potato salad and sweets are also not the best choices.
Instead, opt for lean proteins, such as grilled or baked or salmon or chicken breast. If burgers are the only thing on the menu, you can pare the calories by skipping the cheese — and maybe the bun as well.
Rather than eating pasta salad or potato salad, look for lightly-dressed coleslaw, fresh summer salad with berries and vinaigrette or a quinoa salad.
Not sure there will be any lighter options at the picnic? Bring something healthy to share, like a grilled chicken salad, fruit salad or foil-wrapped potatoes to cook on the grill.
3. Go for grilling
Just be careful what you choose to make. Red meat is typically high in fat, which increases your risk forheart disease.
On the other hand, certain types of fish (e.g., salmon, tuna steaks, herring) are quite tasty on the grill (think fish kabobs).
They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Ms. Taylor says omega-3s discourage fat storage around the waistline. They’re also potent anti-inflammatories, which can help you beat bloating.
It’s OK to enjoy steak occasionally, but lean cuts, such as sirloin or round steak, are best. Avoid fattier cuts like New York strips or T-bones, she says.
Craving a burger? Try a grilled turkey burger or one made with lean ground beef. As with steaks, treat yourself to ground beef only as an occasional indulgence.
4. Don’t overdo smoothies
If smoothies are among your favorite hot-weather treats, remember that you can have too much of a good thing — the sugar adds up quickly.
In making a smoothie, limit yourself to no more than one handful of fruit. You can, however, add unlimited non-starchy veggies and a good source of protein (e.g., 4-6 oz. of plain Greek yogurt).
5. Limit restaurant meals
Even seemingly lighter restaurant foods (e.g., soups, salads, wraps) are often loaded with hidden salt, sugar and fats. These all contribute to weight gain and bloating.
That doesn’t mean you can’t invite your friends to eat with you on an outdoor patio. Just use your own patio so you control the menu. What you prepare yourself is typically better for you than anything you order at a restaurant.
So go ahead and feast on the bounty of summer. But choose wisely, so you can still feel confident and relaxed when you end up beside the pool or at the beach after the barbecue.
6. Stay away from sugary drinks
Sipping on a summery lemonade or sweet tea may seem benign, but one glass can easily have up to 200 calories, all from sugar. Since your body is unable to use all those calories during a lazy summer afternoon, the extra calories are eventually stored as fat — the last thing you want during swimsuit season.
7. Don’t overdo alcohol
Alcohol itself is more calorie-dense than either carbohydrates or protein. It contains almost as many calories per gram as fat. The calories add up quickly with wine coolers, beer, and fruity drinks like margaritas and daiquiris.
Remember that all alcohol is high in calories and will pack on the fat, especially around the mid-section because of how alcohol is metabolized in the body. If you choose to drink, stick firmly to the recommended serving sizes — no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Also, avoid the sugary add-ins.
If you enjoy your food while being mindful of what you’re eating and drinking, it can help you can avoid gaining weight.