One of the joys of summer is spending time in great weather with friends and fantastic food. However, keeping a balanced diet can be tough. After all, summer is filled with late nights full of feasting on delicious barbeque, cold beer, sweet ice cream and more. When fun takes priority, as it often does in summer, you might find yourself less focused on making nutritious food decisions.
“With the heat brings so many choices in beverages, barbeque dishes, and summer desserts. These items usually have quite a bit of added sugars,” says Matt Rinehart, MS, RD, clinical oncology dietitian at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Enjoying the summer while maintaining balance in your diet is possible with these five strategies:
1. Increase your water intake.
Your body needs more hydration during the summer heat. “Up your intake of water through the summer months, especially if you are going to consume alcohol,” suggests Rinehart.
Every person’s individual water needs vary. Paying attention to your body’s signals, including thirst and the color of your urine (aim for very pale yellow), can help you stay on top of your hydration. If your taste buds are craving more flavor than plain water offers, add a few slices of fresh fruit to add a hint of summer flavor.
If you plan to take water with you on the go, ensure your bottle is BPA-free. Some stainless-steel options can keep beverages cold for many hours even on the hottest summer days.
2. Be mindful of alcohol intake.
Summer get-togethers with friends often involve cold, alcoholic beverages—beer, margaritas, fruity cocktails and more. Though these beverages may be delicious, consuming alcohol comes with added calories and other risks.
“When it comes to alcohol, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends avoiding alcohol to reduce your risk of cancer. Alcohol has been associated with an increased risk of breast, esophagus, liver, colorectal, stomach, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancer from AICR research,” notes Rinehart. “However, modest amounts of alcohol can have protective effects as it relates to heart disease. What does modest amounts of alcohol really mean? One alcoholic drink a day for women and two alcoholic drinks a day for men is considered modest.”
3. Grill safely.
What’s better than a meal fresh off the grill? A meal that’s prepared safely to reduce risks associated with cooking foods at very high temperatures.
“Grilling at high temperatures cause the formation of carcinogens on your animal proteins. To reduce the amount of carcinogens on grilled meat, marinate it first in an oil based marinade. This can reduce the carcinogen level up to 90 percent,” Rinehart explains. “Another option is to limit grilling meat and choose a variety of vegetables or meatless options such as portabella mushrooms, polenta, or squash.”
4. Add Fruits and Vegetables
You may find it easier to focus on adding more seasonal fruits and vegetables rather than focusing on removing less nutritious items. Summer’s produce selection is abundant, with many options available through local producers.
“Farmer’s markets are full of life in the summer! Check out your local farmer’s market for fresh and local produce in your area,” suggests Rinehart. “Try making fresh salsas, guacamole, and fruit salads to increase your produce consumption in the summer.”
A surprising way to enjoy summer-fresh fruits is on the grill. Rinehart notes that peaches, pineapple and watermelon are excellent grilled. This recipe for Grilled Peaches with Greek Yogurt and Balsamic Glaze is a crowd pleaser!
5. Creatively Substitute Ingredients
Many recipes for summertime treats feature basic grocery store staples. Using some creativity, you can find ways to improve the nutritional impact of your favorite dishes.
- Fats: In place of shortening, butter, lard, try using coconut oil, olive oil, avocado or walnuts to add fats to your favorite dishes.
- Refined sugar: Instead of refined sugars, try baking with unsweetened applesauce, which can work in some baked goods. Even better—try a new dessert that features ripe summer fruits, like Triple Antioxidant Yogurt Popsicles.
- All-Purpose Flour: Explore gluten-free options such as quinoa or almond flour to provide variety in your grain use These Almond Flour Muffins can be customized to your taste and the season by stirring in your favorite fresh fruit, adding spices, or topping with your favorite nuts or seeds.
With a little forethought and implementation of some simple strategies, you’ll find that maintaining a balanced diet during summer fun is easier than you imagined.