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Nutrition for Summer Health

You’re outside in the sun. You’re swimming. You’re sweating. You’re talking. And later…you’re eating and drinking. The lazy days of summer are often spent in the company of family and friends, enjoying bubbly thirst-quenching drinks and tangy, finger-licking foods. Most of us are having so much fun that we don’t pay much attention to exactly what and how much we’re swallowing as we chat and nibble. There are some tricks that can minimize waistline damage while enjoying the best food summer has to offer.

Foods That Hydrate

Particularly for the active, staying hydrated on hot days is crucial to good health. For athletes who do hours of hard exercise, sports beverages may be necessary for staying properly hydrated. But for those exercising more leisurely, drinking water and eating vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables are best ways to rehydrate.

Fruits and vegetables are succulent, plentiful and generally affordable in the summer. Strawberries, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, greens and citrus fruits are all loaded with water and nutrients. Filling up on these foods—whether raw or grilled, eaten alone or with a low-fat dip such as hummus—can keep the stomach satisfied and curb the appetite for more fattening foods. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber, which is important for digestive and cardiovascular health. Fiber helps to keep bowel movements regular, preventing bloating—a boon for bikini and bathing suit season.

Foods That Fight Sun Damage

Fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants that can help fight damage from harmful UV rays. Research has shown that topical application of certain “anti-aging” vitamins and minerals does not deliver these nutrients to the skin as effectively as eating them. Dr. Karen Burke of the American Academy of Dermatology states: “There are three antioxidants that have been proven to decrease the effect of the sun on the skin and actually prevent further UV damage: selenium, vitamin E and vitamin C.”

Seafood, meat, whole grains and some vegetables are rich in selenium. Citrus fruits, cabbage-type vegetables, dark green vegetables, pell peppers, cantaloupe, stawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, papayas and mangoes are rich in vitamin C. Vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, liver, egg yolks, nuts and seeds contain lots of vitamin E.

These antioxidants do more than fight sun damage, too. They are also good for the heart and can help prevent a number of cancers. Given that these antioxidants are found in a wide range of foods, a single well-balanced meal could prepare you for an afternoon in the sun.

Safe, Waistline-Friendly Barbecue Foods

As the steak, chicken, burgers and dogs sizzle on the grill, you might be tempted to dig in to these summer specialties with gusto. But take heed—it’s easy to overdo it on the calories when it comes to barbecue and picnic food.

First, stick with a single portion of main courses—a palm-sized portion of beef or chicken, one hot dog or burger, and a checkbook-size portion of fish. The best choices are white meats, such as chicken and fish, which are low in saturated fat and total fat. The red meats are highest in fat and therefore contain the highest calorie counts. In addition, make sure all grilled foods are cooked thoroughly before eating them, and once they are done, keep them hot. Summer heat can quickly grow enough dangerous bacteria to cause foodborne illness.

Furthermore, grilling meat produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which can be carcinogenic. These harmful chemicals are not produced when grilling plant foods. Another reason to limit intake of grilled hot dogs and other processed meats, such as the lunch meats often packed in picnic baskets, are the presence of nitrates. Nitrates are additives and color enhancers that may cause cancer and other health problems.

Grilled zucchini, pineapple, tomatoes and myriad other fruits and vegetables are healthy alternatives to meat. Try grilling them separately or on kabobs that mix lots of different kinds of shapes and colors. Veggie burgers are another great way to get the benefits of vegetables without the saturated fat or PAH dangers of grilled meat.

It’s also prudent to avoid foods grilled and served with heaps of sauce. Sauce generally adds calories and sodium. For cooks, use sauce sparingly. For eaters, ask the cook to go easy on sauces. Also, never eat uncooked sauces, which may contain raw meat juices that can also cause foodborne illness.

Summer’s Creamy Culprits

Summer also features mayonnaise-based accompaniments such as potato and macaroni salads. Mayonnaise is another high-fat condiment that offers little nutritional benefit. Mayo spoils easily when it’s hot outside, so when in charge of bringing a salad, opt for a light oil-based salad, a fruit salad or a green salad. Offering simple, spoil-proof salads can offer picnickers more nutritious, safer options.

Ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt can cool off even the hottest day. Depending on what your favorite sweet treat is, make wise portion and flavor choices to help keep calories and saturated fat to a minimum. For the premium, homemade ice cream lover, go for small portions of “the real thing” and keep indulgences to once or twice a week. For must-have-it every day type person, stick to half-cup portions of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt. For those who prefer the icy texture of ice pops or flavored ice, a single portion a day will do little damage, since these treats are usually fat free and contain few calories.

Swear Off Sodium

When chatting, sunning and enjoying good company in summer, it’s easy for the hand to make numerous passes over the chip and pretzel bowls. These seemingly innocuous treats are often loaded with sodium—not to mention needless calories. As summer heats up the body, excessive sodium can lead to bloating. Avoid eating sodium-rich foods, but when you do, drink plenty of fluid to help flush it from the system. The best summer nibbles are nutrient-packed, low-calorie fruits and vegetables. They nourish and cool and do minimal damage when eaten liberally.