Ask yourself what you most love about the warm weather months and you’ll likely come up with a list that reads a little like: longer days, no snow ergo no boots, summer breezes through open windows and days spent outside. In addition to those favorites will be a list entirely devoted to food: patio season, barbecues, ice cream, picnics and beer. Eating is a huge part of our summer experience and while it’s OK to indulge in moderation, here are 10 treats you should try to avoid and alternatives that will keep you healthy this summer.
Popsicles – The idea of frozen sugar water wouldn’t be so bad, but the artificial coloring in these things puts them over the top. If a food has to be dyed in order for people to eat it, that means there is something wrong with it. The carcinogenicity of many food dyes is well documented. A University of Toronto study also found ingestion of foods with artificial coloring lead to hyperactivity, restlessness and aggressive behavior in children. Many people are also allergic to these chemical colorings. Cool off with something else this summer.
Alternatives – Homemade juice pops.
Processed BBQ Fare – Hot dogs, soy burgers, packaged meat patties and sausages – check the ingredients carefully. Most of these products contain nitrates, which add that extra meaty flavor and prevent botulism. Nitrates, once converted to nitrites, are known to be toxic, interfering with your blood’s ability to carry oxygen and, of course, cause cancer. Skip the nitrates by eating unprocessed meat from your butcher and eating vegetables. There are plenty of options for BBQs that don’t involve processed, nitrate-filled imitation meat.
Alternatives – Unprocessed meat, vegetarians can make homemade veggie burgers or grill vegetables and put them on a bun.
Patio Food – Deep-fried snacks such as chicken wings, French fries and onion rings all seem to suddenly become acceptable once they’re served on a patio. I know it’s good to have something salty with your frosty beer, but I don’t have to tell you how loaded with hydrogenated fats these foods are. When you think about it, who wants to be weighed down with heavy deep-fried carbs in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, anyway? Why not have a salad?
Alternatives – Just about anything.
Vitamin Water/Sports Drinks – While playing summer sports, or even just spending the day outdoors, avoiding dehydration is very important. It’s tempting to reach for something that’s brightly colored and sweet, but remember you’re getting a dose of sugar and artificial food colorings with that enticing beverage. Manufacturers will try to tell you it’s good for you, explaining it hydrates better than water or that it has vitamins in it, but let’s face it – nothing is better than water for quenching thirst and a sugar-laden processed food, is not a good source of vitamins. Always be suspect of a sugary drink that claims to quench thirst – sugar congeals the saliva, making you more thirsty.
Alternatives – water, diluted juice, homemade sports drink
Deli Salads – Break out the picnic basket! We’re going on a daytrip. But before you reach for the fluorescent green coleslaw and the curiously sweet potato salad, ask what’s in them. Often these “salads” are filled with preservatives and artificial flavors, not to mention hydrogenated fats. The problem is, in supermarket delis, the ingredients aren’t listed. I’m not saying they’re all bad. Some of these salads may actually be quite good for you, but find out what’s in them first.
Alternatives – Make your own salads.
Carnival Treats – Cotton candy, carmel corn, candied nuts, slushies, churros – no one is mistaking this stuff for real food. Treats are treats, but you might want to do a little planning before hitting the carnival or amusement park and bring along some healthy snacks to offset the bad stuff. They charge you an arm and a leg for this stuff anyway, so you’ll save yourself a few bucks.
Alternatives -Packed lunches, homemade popcorn (not microwave), fruit, nuts, raw veggies.
Campfire Food – S’mores, roasted marshmallows – Have noticed that when you feed kids this stuff they never want to go to bed afterward? That’s because they’re hopped up on sugar!
Alternative – Campfire pineapple is surprisingly delicious.
Iced Coffee Drinks – Now I know there has been a lot press about these lately, but I thought I should mention them anyway. Nutrition-wise, these drinks are the bottom of the barrel — sugar, hydrogenated fats (some of them), caffeine – there is absolutely no food value to these drinks at all. And what’s worse, they are marketed to kids as a way to get them hooked on a caffeinated coffee drink that basically tastes like a milk shake.
Alternatives – Water, fruit smoothies.
Frozen yogurt – Just because it’s lower in fat than ice cream doesn’t make it healthy. You have to ask yourself – if it isn’t the fat that’s making it creamy, what is? Plus, with all the sugar in these desserts, it’s actually better to have the fat there to slow down digestion and slow the release of sugar into the blood, thereby lowering the insulin response. Ironically, choosing low-fat, high sugar options is more likely to lead to weight gain than eating the higher fat versions in most situations.
Alternatives – Homemade frozen 100% juice pops, frozen fruit, actual yogurt.
Sugar-Free Kids Drinks – Good-meaning parents grab this stuff thinking they are doing their kids a favor by avoiding the sugar, but replacing sugar with deadly artificial sweeteners like aspartame is no favor. It’s widely believed that aspartame will be banned soon enough (although likely not until stevia, a natural plant-based sugar-free sweetener, is approved), but why wait. There’s also a good dose of artificial coloring in these drinks too (see above).
Alternatives – Juice, water
Treats are treats, but think before you indulge. Avoid unconsciously stuffing your face with a lot of junk simply because the weather is nice. After all, you still want to look good in your swimsuit by Labor Day weekend, don’t you?