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It’s kind of a myth that summer means more exercise and healthier food choices for everyone. One eye-opening study found that kids gain weight three times faster over summer than they do the rest of the school year, thanks to a steady diet of junk food and video games.
And while there’s no comparable stat on grown-ups and weight gain, barbecues, state fairs, and waterside food vendors offer plenty of temptation. Here are the summer foods you should always avoid, and healthier options you can feel free to enjoy.
Worst: Ice cream sandwich
What’s better than two cookies sandwiching vanilla ice cream, especially when the cookies are chocolate chip? Well, actually, pretty much anything is better for you, because this treat usually packs nearly 500 calories and gets a whopping 60 percent of it’s melt-in-your mouth flavor from saturated fat.
A better idea: Make your own ice cream sandwiches using lower-fat sorbet. Better yet, skip the cookie and try one of our picks for America's Healthiest Ice Creams.
Worst: Fried dough
A staple at summer fairs and carnivals, fried dough is simply nutritional napalm and definitely belongs on our list of 50 Fattiest Foods In the States.
Deep-fried flour, butter, shortening, and sugar may sound like something you can get away with once or twice a year, but keep in mind that fried and battered foods are among the worst sources of trans fat.
While trans fat can be tasty, it raises bad cholesterol, lowers the good kind, and can increase inflammation in your body. Bottom line: fried dough doesn’t belong in anyone’s diet.
Worst: Corn dogs
Which state invented the corn dog? Texas claims to have unveiled this deep-dried fat bomb at a state fair in 1942, but Minnesota wants credit too. But why boast? Anything deep-fried is usually best to avoid, but this snack is in its own category, packing about 20 grams of fat and loads of sodium.
A better idea: Choose a hot dog under 150 calories and 14 grams of fat, and limit sodium to under 450 milligrams. And have it on a whole grain bun.
Worst: Lobster rolls
If lobster rolls sound like a lean and healthy alternative to a hamburger, consider how these seaside treats are assembled: Lobster is mixed with mayonnaise, then nestled inside a well-buttered white bread bun for a fat-clogged sandwich that weighs in at over 400 calories, more than half of which comes from fat.
A better bet: Try making lobster rolls at home, where you can use just a dash of low-fat mayo, put them on a whole-wheat roll, and limit or even eliminate the butter.
Worst: Fried clams
A few fried clams are fine to share with friends, but don’t make a meal of them. One three-fourth cup serving of this fried seafood packs nearly 500 calories and a whopping 26 grams of fat. A better bet is to eat them cooked but not deep-fried.
Cooked clams pack protein and are one of the best sources of vitamin b12 which is vital for a healthy nervous system and to prevent anemia.
Ribs come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter how you cut ‘em, restaurant ribs need to stay off your summer menu. A quarter pound of beef or pork ribs weigh in at 288 calories and are loaded with saturated fat, and that’s before you slather on barbecue sauce.
When cooking ribs at home, skip the sauce in favor low-fat spices like mustard, garlic, and chili powder. They’ll add delicious flavors without many calories.
Try our barbecue rib recipe as an appetizer. Before cooking, be sure to trim off all visible fat and keep portion sizes small.
Daiquiris sound light and refreshing, but their nutritional profile is big and bloated. An 8-ounce strawberry daiquiri, for example, packs more calories than a double-patty hamburger and is loaded with fat and sugar!
But there are plenty of healthier drinks to enjoy poolside, with or without alcohol.
Worst: Macaroni and potato salad
While we still love eating mac and potato salad throughout the summer, fattening mayonnaise is unfortunately what makes both taste so good. A better bet is to swap in low-fat mayo or heart-healthy unsaturated fats, like olive oil.
Still craving the real-deal? Try our rich and creamy Original Potato Salad. At 300 calories per serving, you can enjoy it if you keep portions small.
Worst: Onion rings
While onion rings don’t sound like the worst health choice you can make, once onions are dipped in flour and eggs, thrown into a deep fryer, then salted, the outcome is a diet disaster.
A much better idea: Try a Faux Fry! Coat sliced onions with egg whites and a mixture of grated Parmesan cheese, whole-wheat flour, and panko breadcrumbs. Spritz with cooking spray and bake in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes.
Crispy, healthy, satisfying…you’ll never eat deep-fried onions rings again!
Best: Corn on the cob
Corn on the cob without butter or salt is a high-fiber, low-calorie food. We love shaving some off the cob into salads, using it for healthy salsas, and grilling it — just don’t overdo the butter!
Tip: choose the yellow variety over the white kind for added vitamin A.
Popping some watermelon into your mouth is a great way to rehydrate after a long day in the sun.
True to its name, watermelon is over 90 percent water. It’s also an even better source of cancer-fighting lycopene than raw tomatoes. At just 44 calories a cup, there’s no reason not to bite into this summery fruit.
Best: Fresh iced tea
Tea has zero calories, loads of antioxidants, and may even help you lose weight. To get the nutritional benefits of tea, you really need to make it yourself and not go for the bottled variety.
Black or green, if you make your own using a tea bag, iced is just as beneficial as hot. Check out our 9 Thirst-Quenching Iced Tea Recipes and consider enjoying this healthy drink every day.
Best: Fruit salad
Summer is peak season for colorful berries and stone fruit, and fruit eaters tend to weigh less than people who don’t enjoy fruit!
If that’s not enough to get you to the farmer’s market, red, purple and blue fruit are potent sources of antioxidants and vitamins, and some, especially berries, pack up to one-third of your daily fiber needs per serving.
Here are 12 Delicious Fruit Salads and Salsa Recipes to help you eat more of this seasonal treat!
In the summer months, the last thing you want is to stir a pot over a hot stove and tuck into a steaming bowl of soup. Chilled soups are a perfect solution—for many of our recipes all you need is a bowl to prepare it!
Gazpacho is filled with healthy ingredients like bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, which make it a light yet flavorful soup.
One cup of our juicy Summer-Garden Gazpacho is only 88 calories with 4 grams of fat and zero cholesterol.
Best: Grilled chicken kabobs
Easy to throw on the barbecue, chicken kabobs are packed with protein but low in calories, fat, and carbs.
When you add veggies (like zucchini, bell peppers, and squash) to your skewer, you’ll add delicious, summery flavors and loads of antioxidants.
Vitamin C-packed red bell peppers are a great addition, as they get even sweeter on the grill and a half-cup provides only 14 calories. Another option: Dip chicken skewers into yogurt sauces, like in this simple-summer Yogurt-and-Spice Grilled Chicken Skewers dish.
Raw, grilled, rolled, sliced or diced, zucchini is the perfect summer veggie. At only 20 calories per cup, it has zero fat and cholesterol, and 35 percent of your daily-recommended intake of vitamin C.
In addition to enjoying this veggie raw you can use it to make one of these 26 Quick and Tasty Zucchini Recipes.
Best: Shrimp cocktail
Great for a mid-afternoon snack, as an appetizer at a party, or for a light lunch, shrimp are a high-protein and low-calorie way to get energized. They provide about 14 percent of your daily-recommended iron intake, and a 3.5 ounce serving is less than 100 calories.
We love topping them on salads, eating them plain, or grilling them like in this tasty Grilled Shrimp with Lime, Orange, and Basil Oil appetizer.