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5 Summer Foods That Aren’t as Healthy as They Seem


Whether you’re lounging poolside, taking in a ballgame, or hanging out in your own back yard, you’ll be enjoying lots of warm weather meals between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And there are a few summery foods that seem like good-for-you options that aren’t as guiltless as they appear. Here’s why, and what to reach for instead.

Turkey burgers
The leanness of a burger doesn’t depend on the type of protein it’s made from. A turkey burger can actually pack more fat and calories than a beef burger if the ground meat contains a higher percentage of fat. For example a 3-ounce burger patty made from 95 percent lean ground beef contains 145 calories and 6 grams of fat, whereas a 3-ounce patty made from 85 percent lean ground turkey packs 250 calories and 16 grams of fat.   

Better choice 
If you eat meat go with the highest percent lean you can find. Or ditch the meat altogether and whip up a batch of black bean burgers. Research has shown that black beans pack more antioxidants than blueberries and regular bean eaters have smaller waistlines and a 22 percent lower risk of obesity. Black bean burgers also taste great with avocado, a top source of “good” fat, antioxidants, and potassium, a natural diuretic that helps prevent bloating and water retention. 

BBQ chicken salad
Salad seems like the healthiest meal on the planet but those toppings and dressings really add up. A typical entrée portion of this popular summer pick packs over 1,000 calories and nearly 100 grams of carbohydrate. 

Better choice 
Kabobs. Skewer chunks of chicken breast or another lean protein (shrimp or tofu) along with lots of veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. Grilling brings out the natural sweetness in fresh vegetables and you’ll be ditching all the calorie-laden extras. If you crave a little more flavor brush your kabobs with pesto or an herb or garlic infused olive oil. Bonus: a little healthy fat boosts the absorption of antioxidants by 10 times or more. 

Because lemons are bitter lemonade is made with sugar and many use lemon flavoring rather than real fruit. Just 12 ounces of a typical powdered or bottled lemonade contains the equivalent of 10 cubes of sugar, the same amount as soda, and provides zero vitamin C. 

Better choice 
Keep it simple. Stick with plain H2O with fresh wedges of lemon. A quarter cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice provides about 50 percent of the vitamin C you need daily. This is key because a recent study found that exercisers who fall short on vitamin C burn 25 percent less fat during a workout and too little vitamin C has been linked to higher body fat and waist measurements. 

Soft pretzels 
Yes, they’re fat free but one giant pretzel can pack the carb equivalent of six and a half slices of white bread. Yikes!

Better choice 
Popcorn. Three cups popped counts as a serving of whole grain, a food group linked to lower rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. And popcorn is a secret superfood. Check out my previous post about popcorns hidden health benefits and easy ways to make it tasty. 

Strawberry shortcake
Strawberry shortcake is made with fresh fruit, but when you add the sugar, biscuit, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream, you wind up with over 800 calories, the amount in a whopping 16 cups of strawberries. 

Better choice 
Keep the strawberries whole and dip them in melted dark chocolate. Strawberries are low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants, and vitamin C. Check out my post about why berries are summer’s secret weight loss weapon. Pairing them with dark chocolate is a weight loss double whammy because eating a small amount every day can help you stay svelte all summer. Here’s why

Did any of these foods surprise you? What are your summer favorites? Please tweet @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.


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