Avoid these summer diet disasters

Usually, we tend to eat healthier in the summer: our cravings naturally lean toward light, fresh, minimally processed foods (salads, skewers, fruit). But some summer staples that seem light and fresh — and others that are just summer favorites — can actually derail your New Year’s resolution-imposed summer diet and be the cause of a few unwanted pounds. Learn about these surprising and not-so-surprising summer diet derailers, and try replacing them with healthier options.

Too Much Fro-Yo

Most frozen yogurts have about ⅓ to ½ of the calories and a fraction (if any) of the fat of regular ice cream, so it would make sense to automatically assume it’s a far healthier pick than ice cream. But the calories from fro-yo can add up fast: calorie counts are typically wrong, since aeration — the amount of air pumped into the fro-yo — differs between batches, and because your fro-yo server might overfill your cup. The serving size for a small cup might amount to only 120 calories, but add to that the decorative, towering swirl that topples over your cup, and you might be eating another 100. Further compounding this matter is the fact that frozen yogurt has a “health halo” — people believe it’s a healthy and nutritious snack, so instead of treating it like the dessert it is (like ice cream), we eat it in mammoth servings. Many fro-yo shops offer 16-ounce cups, which can amount to 380 calories and 76 grams of sugar.

Even with a reasonable serving size, frozen yogurt is still a sugar bomb: a ½ cup serving has 20 grams of sugar (fro-yo essentially replaces all of ice cream’s fat with sugar). And toppings like gummy bears, brownies, cookie dough, and Oreos add many more calories and sugar. Finally, replacing an ice cream craving with fro-yo may backfire: full-fat ice cream takes longer to digest and is more satisfying than fro-yo. Instead of handling a craving with a small portion of ice cream, you might end up hitting the fro-yo counter every night of the week to try to satisfy your craving. If you have a true ice cream craving, have a small bowl of the real, full-fat kind.

Road Trips

Unless you’re going on a Whole Foods tour of the United States, road trips are usually food disasters. Half of the problem lies in the lack of nutritious restaurants along the highway; the other half is long stretches of highway with no food at all (except maybe a gas station). When you’re stopping for lunch or dinner, look out for chains that offer customizable meals, like Subway, Chipotle, and Noodles & Company – you can add as many vegetables as you want and add lean, not-fried protein. Normally, local restaurants are the way to go, but on road trips — especially in less populous areas — stick to chains, where you can look up nutritional information.

Packing the right snacks will save you money, time, and calories. For lasting satiety, make sure your snacks have a little bit of protein and fat: whenever you ingest either, a hormone called cholecystokinin is released from your intestines. From there, it signals to your nervous system that you’re full; in the stomach, it slows the rate of digestion. Pack a cooler with cut up vegetables and fruit, and pair them with a handful of nuts or hummus.

If you turn to food when you’re bored, pack popcorn instead of chips and crackers. Popcorn is a whole grain, so it contains filling fiber; it’s a high-volume, low-density food, which decreases hunger; and it has antioxidants, including polyphenols and ferulic acid, which has been shown to fight cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. For more healthy snacks, see Rania Batayneh’s, MPH, recommendations for healthy summer road trip snacks.

Tropical Drinks and Smoothies

Bright, fruity cocktails scream summer. But just one can take up a third of your day’s calories, without adding any nutrients as other whole foods do, or satiating hunger. Summer favorites, like Long Island Ice Teas, Margaritas and Piña Coladas, all contain more than 600 calories. A lot of these calories come from alcohol; instead of the 1.5 ounce shot glass serving, they usually have at least three shots of alcohol. But the rest come from sugary mixers like soda, juice, cordials, and sweet and sour mixes — all of which are nutritionally void.

If cocktails are a must, seek out “culinary cocktails” (one of 2012’s top food trends): cocktails made with fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, and spices — and a welcome dose of nutrients and antioxidants. Noticeably absent are the sugary, syrupy mixers that add only calories. The Kitchen Upstairs, in Boulder, as well as other restaurants in foodie towns, takes the trend further by incorporating local ingredients: the Whiskey in the Meadow is made of Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain whiskey, muddled 2r’s farm cucumbers, and honey lavender syrup. As a bonus, research has found that the alcohol in liquor enhances the antioxidant activity of fruits — so ask for a few more slices of orange or lemon. Otherwise, pick a portion-controlled beer or glass of wine (make sure it’s the appropriate 5-ounce serving!)

Even drinks sans alcohol can do some waistline damage. If you haven’t checked the nutritional stats at Jamba Juice and other smoothie chains yet, it’s time. Smoothies with sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt contain about 350-400 calories per 16-ounce serving, which isn’t bad; it’s the carbs and sugar, and lack of protein or fiber, that turn them into a nutritional disaster. The popular Aloha Pineapple, for example has 97 g carbs and 91 g sugar, and only 6 g protein and 4 g fiber! Add to that the fact that most people treat smoothies like a drink, instead of a meal, and you’re adding 400 empty calories to your lunch (or indulging in a pretty heavy, but not satiating, snack!). Even smoothies containing just fruit, or just veggies and fruit, are still high in sugar and low in fiber and protein. Your best bet is to ask for an 8-ounce smoothie, which is actually the appropriate serving size — and get it with a fiber or protein boost.

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