The 4th of July is one of our favorite holidays. Barbecue, beer, and beautiful weather make for the perfect day spent with friends and family, but also the perfect opportunity for a diet disaster. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our top five tips for staying healthy this 4th of July, and for future barbecues this summer!
- Don’t forget to eat: Think that skipping food until the barbecue is the healthier way to go? Think again! Depending on what time your event is at, be sure to eat some small meals and/or snacks filled with protein and fiber to help fill you up beforehand. This may seem counterintuitive, but the last thing you want to do is prep for your barbecue or arrive to someone else’s party famished and ready to devour everything in sight. We recommend having a protein- and fiber-rich snack within an hour before the party. Some good options include: a Greek yogurt with berries, apple slices or a banana with nut butter, or a sliced bell pepper with hummus.
- Swap it out: There are plenty of healthy swaps for main ingredients that go into popular barbecue dishes. Love a good potato, egg, or pasta salad? Try swapping in low-fat Greek yogurt for half or all the mayo in the recipe. Swap half of your red meat for leaner proteins like lean poultry and fish (salmon kebabs, anyone?). Want to limit your carbs? Cauliflower and zucchini make for great low-carb substitutes! Swap in cauliflower chunks for have of the potato in a potato salad. Use zucchini “noodles” instead of regular wheat-based pasta in a cold pasta salad side dish. There are even some great low-carb bun alternatives. Grill up some portobello mushroom caps or eggplant slices to use as buns, or simply serve burgers in lettuce buns (iceberg works best).
- Practice portion control: Let’s face facts – the communal, buffet-style serving at barbecues makes controlling portions nearly impossible. However, there are a few things we can control that will make it a little easier. First, stick with smaller snack- or appetizer-sized plates when serving yourself. You’ll unknowingly serve yourself less, trick your brain into thinking you have a bigger meal than you do, and by extension, eat less. When it comes to lightly-seasoned grilled, steamed, baked, roasted, or raw non-starchy veggies, like zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and leafy greens, there’s no need to exercise portion control. In fact, we recommend loading your plate with these first, so that there’s less room for the fried and fatty stuff.
- Watch your sugar intake: Added sugar intake, that is. Sugars added to food and beverages during processing are known as added sugars, and they contribute to inflammation, weight gain, and many chronic diseases. They are not to be confused with the sugars found naturally in fruit and dairy (we love these). Added sugars are found lurking in many popular barbecue items like sugary beverages and desserts. Condiments are a less obvious source of added sugars, but many are chock full of them. Limit your intake of barbecue sauce and ketchup, which can contain up to two teaspoons of added sugar per tablespoon serving. Instead, opt for low-sugar condiments like mustard, guacamole, pesto, and salsa. For dessert, try serving fruit-based desserts, like grilled peaches with yogurt or grilled fruit kebabs, instead of or in addition to other added-sugar-heavy desserts.
- Hydrate: Staying hydrated is important every day of the year but becomes especially important during the summer months when you’re spending time outdoors. Drinking water not only cools the body down and replenishes fluids lost through sweat but can also prevent you from overindulging on unnecessary calories. It’s true – drinking just two glasses of H2O right before eating was shown to decrease calorie intake at the meal. If you’re hosting the party, make sure to have plenty of cold water readily available, and limit the sugary sodas and juices you offer. Instead, add some fruit-infused beverages and naturally flavored waters to the lineup. Try adding fresh cut fruit and herbs to a pitcher of flat or sparkling water and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors infuse. You could also serve unsweetened iced tea with fresh lemon slices. Lastly, if you choose to drink alcohol, make sure to alternate each alcoholic beverage with a big glass of water.
Charlotte Martin is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness of Merritt Clubs.