Summer will be here soon, and with it comes the onslaught of sun, sand, fun... and lots and lots of food.
While our diet choices in the winter may often be used to comfort or soothe, come summer, it's weaved into events that celebrate the arrival of the sun and warmth. The dreary "I'm eating again on the couch" in winter is often replaced with "let's eat and drink!" on the deck in the warmer months.
Though we tend to be more active in the summer months due to better weather and more hours of daylight to get in that after-work walk, our splurges may negate the extra activity.
There are five foods I see most often dominating the diets of my patients during the summer, and although these foods surely fit into "the devil that they know" category with no real surprises, it's the overconsumption of these foods that create the devil they don't know. Come fall, many of my patients have gained weight from having too much of a food blast.
Here is the top 5:
Excess alcohol consumption at any time of the year can easily lead to weight gain, health problems, high risk behavior, and an increase in psychological and sociological damage. In the summer, however, beer, wine and those cool summer adult beverages seem to flow a bit easier. To give you some perspective, consider this: A 5-ounce glass of red or white wine is about 100 calories, a 12-ounce beer is about 150 calories and a 1.5 ounce shot (just the shot, not the sweet somethings you're adding to it) is about 100. This may not seem like a lot, but let's consider now the fact that binge drinking has gone up and let's now add in the last final piece of information that really hits home: It takes only 500 extra calories a day to gain a pound a week. When you consume a few drinks on a regular basis, it's easy to reach that pound, and after three months, you may have gained a few. Some drinks alone have almost 500 calories or more (think Long Island iced tea, strawberry daiquiri, margaritas and that pina colada you're sipping at the beach)! If you love things like your liver, fitting into your pants in the fall, and having energy, I'd suggest you slow things down this summer and drink less. You can still drink, and enjoy the summer events, just limit to no more than one actual serving and no more than three days a week.
2. Meat that's not considered "real food"
If you were to envision pictures of food when I said the word "summer," you'd probably think of some healthy options like watermelon, grilled chicken and corn on the cob, but you would most likely also envision the grill stacked with hot dogs and hamburgers. After all, it's hard to imagine summer without them. A few years ago, I read Michael Pollan's book "Food Rules," and it changed the way I speak to my patients. Food was no longer just what we put in our mouths, but rather something that "comes from nature, is fed from nature and will eventually rot" -- that's Pollan's definition. It's genius, it's spot on and if you follow it, it can transform how you view food too. According to Pollan's rules, a hamburger that comes from cows that ate grain (as opposed to cows that eat grass) wouldn't be considered food, and surely a pork product that has nitrates and nitrites added to it wouldn't either. The point is, the summer months are chock full of Americans sharing a table with the wrong meats -- and lots of them. Processed meats, like a hot dog or bacon, have been shown to increase the risk for heart failure, premature death, and cancer. If that's not enough to scare you, how about this? The hot dog is usually anywhere from 130 - 270 calories depending on size and will most likely have about 800 mg - 1400mg of sodium and 25 grams of fat. That meat stick is then nestled in a stripped white bread bun that's anywhere from 150 to 200 calories and void of any nutrients whatsoever. The hamburger can come in anywhere from 250 calories to 500 calories and add in even more fat, about 22 grams -- 40 grams worth. Pair that with some chips (we eat tons of those during the summer too) or fries and we are no longer talking about a low-calorie food. A better bet would be going with a grilled chicken breast or a hamburger that's 4 ounces in weight and derived from happy cows that eat what cows are supposed to: grass. Pair that with a whole grain bun and a side of fruit salad and you've got a healthier option.
3. Mayo-based salads
Lobster rolls anyone (almost 500 calories)? How about a cup of potato salad (400 calories) or macaroni salad? During the summer months, mayo rules! While it's fine to have mayonnaise in moderate amounts, the foods we typically eat them in during the summer are serving as size dishes without the side dish proportion. That means they are supporting cast to a most likely unhealthy lead actor like the hamburger or hot dog I just reviewed or the slab of ribs I'll cover soon. It's not just calories either; it's also the effect it has on our blood sugar and insulin. White potatoes and white macaroni are two of the highest glycemic foods around. Having a lot of high glycemic foods in your diet may increase your risk for chronic disease and make it a lot easier to gain weight.
4. Ice cream
I know what you're thinking. Duh -- this one is too easy; no one thinks that ice cream is beneficial to your health. What may be less obvious though is that it's possible that we may eat more ice cream in the summer (more ice cream trucks, baseball games, and standalone stands available in summer months) and it's even more possible that we are also grossly underestimating the size of a serving. A serving of ice cream is ½ cup. That's about ½ a baseball or ½ a scoop and that weighs in around 150 calories. You're probably thinking not so bad, but the average "small" is actually more like 1 cup, or 300 calories. So, even if you're being "good" and assuming you're not putting any toppings on (hot fudge, peanut butter cups, whip cream) you're still ingesting 300 calories. (Remember how many extra calories I told you needed daily to gain a pound a week? You're almost there.) Further, studies show that components in ice cream actually make your brain less likely to send a signal that you've had enough, making you more likely to take one more (or 100 more) licks. Looking for a better option? A "kiddie" cup or cone (in a cake cone) will be closer to that 1/2 cup serving.
Finally, now that frozen yogurt joints are everywhere, we're piling up our cups in that area too. The cups at self-serve frozen yogurt establishments are not small in any way, shape, or form and the toppings are never-ending, making your calories never ending as well.
I've left the best for last. It's the food that we probably eat more frequently in the summer, the food that entire festivals are themed after and the food that's completely drowning in sugar (in the food industry this "sugar" is referred to as "barbecue sauce"). Two slabs of ribs will put you close to 500 calories. And after you add in the sauce, you're around 750 calories and 50 grams of sugar. That's right, 50 grams of sugar. That's the same amount of sugar in 2.5 doughnuts or two candy bars. Calories, fat, and sugar... you get the picture.
You don't need to swear these foods off completely this summer. You just need to be mindful of how much of them you're eating, and how often. Having a ½ cup serving of ice cream every week isn't going to kill your diet, for example. It's what you're probably having as a serving coupled with the other summer foods that are literally tipping the scales. Enjoy your summer, but set it up so that you're not living with regret when the leaves start turning.