With our spatulas already in hand, we have to face facts: a good old fashioned summer cookout is not a healthy affair. First of all, the traditional fare -- things like chips and dip, hot dogs, hamburgers and pies and cakes -- are high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar. What's more, the communal serving makes portion control nearly impossible. Add to that alcohol overconsumption, and you've got a recipe for a diet bust.
And while we're firm believers that indulging on special occasions can be a positive thing for one's overall wellbeing, consider the body of studies that shows how just one big calorie binge can be damaging to one's health, leading to heart attack in some extreme cases, or -- as HuffPost Healthy Living's Sarah Klein reported -- a stomach rupture.
But even in less extreme cases, the number of summer BBQs and other food-centric gatherings can take a toll on your daily caloric intake and cause problems for those who are either trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight. To help you out, HuffPost Healthy Living has compiled a roundup of the best advice out there:
Choose A Lean, Unprocessed Protein
It's easy to get carried away with tradition, but your average BBQ cheeseburger is loaded with saturated fat and calories. And a single hot dog has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/hot-dog-eating-contest-health_n_1647284.html" target="_hplink">nearly 300 calories and 17 grams of fat</a> -- and that's without all the fixings. <em>Today Show</em> nutritionist Joy Bauer shows how you can reduce your overall calorie intake, in part, <a href="http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/19568711/ns/today-today_grilling_guide_2008/t/good-you-bbq-healthy-grilling-makeover/" target="_hplink">by switching up your protein here</a>. What's more, processed meats like hot dogs and sausages contain preservatives called nitrates that have been linked to colorectal cancer in studies. And cardiovascular research shows that a diet heavy in these meats, which tend to have a high sodium load, are also associated with high blood pressure and heart attack risk. <em>The fix</em>: Try alternative proteins like lean turkey burgers, veggie burgers, fatty fishes like salmon or tuna, or grill-friendly extra firm tofu. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/beef-free-burgers_n_1454179.html" target="_hplink">Check out our list of beef-free burger options here</a>.
Be Careful Not To Burn
There are reasons not to char your food that go far beyond the culinary: two compounds found in charred and overcooked meats, heterocyclic amine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are known carcinogens. What's more, research shows that those carcinogens have a real effect, including one study that found that people who consumed well done meats regularly were <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20400685,00.html " target="_hplink">60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer</a>, Health.com reported. <em>The fix:</em> Make sure to clean your grill to rid it of preexisting charred food bits before you begin cooking anew. Not only is that sanitary, it can cut down on the carcinogenic load. Further, marinate your food before you grill it -- many spices, like red pepper, and other marinade ingredients, such as alcohol -- have been shown to reduce the presence of hydrocarbons. And, of course, don't cook your foods until they are well-done.
Stock Up On Fresh Veggies
It's easy to mindlessly pop finger foods and grilled items into one's mouth throughout the course of a party, so counteract the calorie devastation by preparing high volume, low density foods. Grills are especially great for bell peppers, zuchinni, cherry tomatoes, onions, bok choy, raddichio and more. <em>The fix:</em> One easy way to incorporate more veggies into your BBQ repertoire is to switch from burger-based cooking to kebabs, which naturally allow for a heavy veg load. For example, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/magazine/the-kebab-combination-generator.html" target="_hplink">check out these kebab recipes</a> from Mark Bittman.
Don't Show Up Hungry
If you're headed to someone else's house and you can't set the menu, it is often harder to keep your health priorities. In this scenario, the best plan of attack may be to eat before you head to the party. <em>The fix:</em> Eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates to stay satiated -- for example, a handful of nuts and dried fruit or a piece of toast with canned tuna or salmon. Once you get to the party, it will help you exercise control and eat a small amount.
Keep Count Of The Alcohol
Cookouts are often characterized not just by their abundance of food, but their abundance of beer and cocktails. Sure, in the summer sun, refreshing fizzy beer can seem like a logical hydration choice, but it's easy to overindulge, calorie-wise. <em>The fix:</em> Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of sparkling or still water. Doing so will keep you stay truly hydrated, help prevent drunkenness and keep the liquid calories down. If cocktails are more your style, the same principle aplies. Though it might be worth additionally checking out these <a href="http://www.fitsugar.com/Low-Calorie-Cocktail-Recipes-18089665" target="_hplink">lower calories cocktail recipes</a>.