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Top 10 Summer Eating Pitfalls

For the unmatched supply of fresh produce and good meat sales, summer also offers plenty of dietary pitfalls to avoid.

With 4th of July celebrations just around the corner, we figured it was a timely conversation.

Some of the top 10 food traps are unfortunately typical go-to summer fare: the barbecue basics, the buffet staples, the traditional standbys. The idea here isn’t to rain on anyone’s summer parade. Trust me - the best of the season's eats are still there to be enjoyed!

A few adjustments here and some savvy substitutions there can go a long way in making a great summer meal a healthy one, too. How many of these top 10 do you recognize in your summer diet? 

Any Food That Took No Effort

“I’m just going to stop at the store on the way to the party to pick something up.”

How often do we find ourselves saying that? What could be wrong with that? A lot, potentially. Many of the picnic or BBQ-friendly convenience foods we pick up on short notice will be highly processed, preserved, nutrient-poor, and/or designed for mindless, easy overconsumption.

That said, we can come away with the real goods on one of those quick trips. How many of us, having taken on the Healthy Way of Eating, have chosen instead a pre-cut veggie tray, fruit tray, or even roasted or grilled veggies from the grocery store deli counter? Hands? 

Chips, Pretzels & Snack Mixes

Here’s where convenience can get us in trouble.... These salty, crispy, grab-able snacks are everywhere at summer social gatherings. Besides offering tantalizing tastes and endless varieties, snack chips and mixes are literally designed to be eaten by the handful or to scoop more food into our mouths - quickly.

So, how do you stop, once you’ve popped? It’s nearly impossible. To counter the temptations, I’d suggest subversively filling up the buffet tables with healthier “snacky” foods that offer a crunch.

Some suggestions could be salty kale chips or strips of bell peppers to dip in spicy hummus, guacamole, or sour cream. Other simple ideas would be pre-cut broccoli florets, carrots, jicama, cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, or any other prep-free produce. Although these too qualify as "zero effort" foods, they certainly offer more nourishment to share with your loved ones.   

Sodas or Other Sugared Beverages

How many of us stock the cooler or refrigerator with these guys? I remember the days of youth sports and family picnics when it was a special occasion to get a 6- or 8-ounce juice box or root beer in a glass bottle. (It was a real treat, and it certainly didn’t happen daily.)

Now it seems like most drink coolers are filled with a variety of sugared beverages whether it be juice, soda, sweetened teas, or some franken-food masquerading as a “sports beverage” that’s supposed to hydrate you better than water while you’re expending all that energy...barbecuing?

Many of these are now made with high-fructose corn syrup and may contain brominated vegetable oil, which can wreak havoc on our bodies. These liquid calories simply do not satisfy our appetite or provide any essential nutrients that can’t be easily found in other foods.

Instead, pack your coolers with sparkling mineral water and unsweetened tea, or offer a water cooler filled with chilled cucumber and mint or berry/citrus-infused water. You can offer tons of flavor options without the added sugars!

White (Refined) Hot Dog or Hamburger Buns 

We’ve warned about processed and refined carbohydrate foods plenty of times in the past. At this point, it’s probably common knowledge that we should minimize our intakes of white hotdog and hamburger buns if we want to stay lean.

Despite the fact that bread products raise our blood sugar as quickly and as high as eating two tablespoons of pure sugar, we still seem to fill these picnic staples with anything we can throw on the grill. The blood sugar roller coaster these fluffy white buns put us on make for a fun few hours of energy usually followed by crave-inducing crashes just in time for a last dash through the buffet for cookies, chips, or other sugar hits to keep the party going.

Try going bun-less by eating with a fork and knife to slow down your eating. Use a lettuce-wrap approach to put some color into your meal. Or just toss your grilled goods on top of a plate of hearty salad greens. Fair warning: you may be singled out as the “healthy” one of the bunch. You can handle that label, can’t you? You just might gain some followers.

Whole Wheat Hot Dog or Hamburger Buns

Hey, wait! You’re taking away the whole wheat buns, too! They’re “made with whole grains"! That’s good, isn’t it? Well, it’s more like this: think of them as just the same product as the white breads from above – only with a tan.

If you have a sensitive stomach or IBS, you should try avoiding just about anything grain-based to see if you feel better. With the bun alternatives listed above, what do you really have to lose (except more weight and unwanted symptoms)?

Processed or Preserved Meats 

It’s tough to go to a picnic or barbecue without seeing copious amounts of meat sizzling away on the grill. The smell alone wafting through the neighborhood conjures memories of summer.

Many of our nostalgic char-grilled favorites, however, are heavily processed or preserved with nitrates, nitrites, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or the notorious pink slime that hit the news waves last year. Now, whether or not these ingredients directly cause immediate or lasting disease is beside the point. There are better options to grill for your family and friends.

Whenever you can, opt for 100% grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chickens and wild-caught fish. Explore options in your neighborhood for cheaper direct-from-the-farmer meat (and produce) through You (and your guests) won’t believe how amazing fresh, unprocessed meat and seafood tastes!

Condiments & Dips Made with Sugars, Industrial Vegetable Oils, and/or Artificial Colorings

Quality meat that’s cooked well doesn’t need much for optimum flavor. Depending on who does the grilling, however, you may need a significant dose of your favorite sauce to help out the end result.

Be aware that most condiments are packed with rather unsavory additives to enhance flavor, shelf life, texture, or appearance. It’s shocking to see how many non-health-promoting ingredients are used in popular sauces and condiments like high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, hydrolyzed soy protein, artificial flavors, sodium benzoate and caramel color. Yum - no?

Many people don’t realize these inflammatory ingredients make it into their picnic additions! Often, proper seasoning with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings (as well as gentler cooking) will allow food to come off the grill absolutely loaded with fresh flavor and moisture.

Rather than slathering on store-bought sauces, try dry rubs for chicken & ribs, pack some fresh herbs and spices into your grass-fed burger patties, or marinate your poultry or seafood in some good olive oil, citrus, and herbs before searing them on the grill. Fresh salsa, guacamole, sour cream or hearty mustard are great toppings for your bun-less burger, chicken or brats! Your taste buds and blood sugars will thank you.

Potato “Salad,” Macaroni “Salad” & Pasta “Salad”

I’ll admit I’ve never been drawn to these, given that I dislike mayonnaise. But there are plenty of other reasons to steer clear of the faux “salads.”

It seems when we combine starchy food with loads of fat, we become fat-storing machines! These deli standards may fill up space on paper plates and in stomachs, but what nourishment do these  truly offer? What about replacing these sides with some roasted vegetable salads or crisp, lightly-dressed coleslaw? 

Chemically Colored Treats

Sure, the backyard barbecue is generally overrun with desserts as a whole, but I'd call chemically colored treats "double winners" in this top 10.

Have you ever seen a bowl full of neon-colored gelatin labeled “salad”? How about a brood of kids sticking out blue, red, purple or green tongues after their frozen summertime treats? It’s amazing we voluntarily eat these artificial coloring agents that could just as easily dye our hair, clothing or crafts!

This summer, choose to naturally sweeten your party with fruit kabobs, frozen berries with heavy cream, or homemade real-fruit popsicles. You’ll be fine without chasing down the ice cream man for the latest version of tri-colored bomb-pops. 


“Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat; it makes you lean…against bars, tables, chairs, and poles.” – Anonymous.

All kidding aside, if you choose to drink at parties or barbecues this summer, there are a few ways you can minimize the potential negatives of the social drinking environment.

Many people like to enjoy a drink or two, but it doesn’t always jibe with fat-loss goals. Is it a good idea to include alcohol in your healthy way of life? If you imbibe, you can limit calories and carbs by sticking to clear, distilled liquors like vodka, gin or tequila combined with club soda and some citrus fruit or mint leaves.

Dry wine can also be a healthier option for those who don’t like hard liquor. Of course, we encourage everyone to drink responsibly as well as healthily.

Are you interested in learning more about what to eat - and what to avoid - this summer? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today. Thanks for reading.

Written by Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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