Beware of Those Fattening Summer Foods

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD

Summertime is easy living. Kids are off from school, lazy days, vacations, back yard barbeques and more. The living might be easy, but if you are not careful, summer's fattening foods can pack on the pounds.

A day at the beach, cocktails at the pool, hot dogs at baseball games and all those summertime favorites such as buckets of fried chicken, ribs, ice cream and beer can wreak havoc on your diet. A relaxing day of fun may lead to overeating because food and drink are an American formula for having a good time.

You may be more active during the summer, but it may not be enough to burn off the extra calories. Being as active as possible is great advice, but it can be hard to maintain a beach-ready body, especially if you dive into too many fattening summertime treats. Aim for daily physical activity of at least 30 minutes to maintain your weight and more if you want to lose weight.

Lots of Healthy Options

The good news is that there are plenty of healthy alternatives, which are just as delicious, that may help you stay at your ideal weight.

Summer boasts an abundance of fresh, natural foods that are at their peak of freshness and deliciousness. Pack your coolers with the season's best such as berries, melons, tomatoes and corn. These are just a few of the best available produce that are nutritious, locally grown and waist-friendly foods.

Make sure to have plenty of water on hand to stay hydrated and plan activities to get your friends and family moving while you enjoy the festivities.

Summer's Fattening Foods

I polled the experts for their picks of the summer foods most likely to pile on the pounds. To be fair, all foods can fit in a healthy diet, but only when you eat them in small quantities and not too often.

Sausages and hot dogs – These are all American favorites, especially at baseball games and around the campfire. Sausages, kielbasa, bratwursts and hot dogs can all rack up the fat and sodium and it is so easy to eat more than one.

  • Better choice – Stick to one and serve up lower fat chicken or turkey options.

Fair and carnival foods – From deep-fried sweets to turkey legs the size of Texas, walking around the grounds of a state fair, boardwalk or carnival can spell diet disaster. Served on a stick so you can walk and eat, most of the foods featured are deep-fried don'ts.

  • Better choice – Skip the deep-fried foods and choose fruits, caramel apples or a simple grilled meat.

Fried chicken – What could be easier than a bucket of fried chicken for your gathering? It may be easy, but it is not exactly good for your waistline or your arteries, especially when you can't stop at one piece.

  • Better choice – Go skinless on the grill and save those fat calories while still enjoying the chicken. Marinating skinless chicken helps pump up the flavor as does a fresh fruit or savory salsa topping.

Sweet treats – A trip to your neighborhood ice cream parlor can turn a simple treat into a diet calamity if you pile on the ice cream, toppings and mix-ins into a waffle cone or cookie shell.

  • Better choice – Scale down your portion, choose a cup instead of a cone and try a yummy frozen yogurt, sherbet, light ice cream or sorbet. If toppings are a must, go for the fresh fruit options.

Creamy salads – Coleslaw, potato and pasta salad are fixtures on most tables during the summer. These mayonnaise-based salads are loaded with fat and calories, especially when you pile them onto your plate.

  • Better choice – Make your own salads with lots of veggies and light mayonnaise or a mixture of plain low-fat Greek yogurt and light sour cream. You also can dilute your dressing with water, fruit juice or chicken stock. Break free of the mayonnaise dressing and try a lighter one made with more vinegar than oil.

Alcoholic drinks served with umbrellas – These frozen concoctions are so delicious and tempting especially when the temperatures start rising. Save them for dessert because once you get started, it's hard to stop and those calories add up in a hurry. Pina coladas and daiquiris can set you back up to 800 calories!

  • Better choice – Stay hydrated with water, sparkling water and light drinks, saving your cocktail until later. One cocktail for ladies and two for men is the guidance from the 2010 United States Dietary Guidelines. When choosing cocktails think light beer, wine, wine spritzers or cocktails made with low-calorie mixers.

Large, high-fat meats – Think a whole rack of ribs, 20-ounce steak or a giant double burger. Large portions of meat that contain lots of fat can weigh in at more calories and fat than you should eat in an entire day.

  • Better choice – Skinless chicken thighs, pork tenderloin, turkey breast burgers or small cuts of higher fat meats served up with fruits, veggies or grilled corn on the cob.

Summer does not have to be a diet misfortune if you pay attention to portion sizes and enjoy these fattening foods sparingly.