Summer cookouts can include tasty – and healthy – foods with a little planning –

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June 14, 2022
The least healthy food options at summer cookouts tend to be the most traditional – bratwursts, ribs, hamburgers and hot dogs.
Nothing says summertime like outdoor cookouts. 
Though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few barbecues with family and friends, nutritionists advise people to be mindful of the food they are eating. After all, there’s no need to let the next couple months derail a healthy diet. 
A diet full of sugars, fats and processed foods is not only bad for people’s waistlines, but also for their overall health. Choosing healthier options is important for preventing many health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity.
It is particularly necessary for people with chronic health conditions to watch what they eat at summer cookouts. Overindulging in traditional cookout fare, such as burgers, pasta salads and sweetened drinks can trigger symptoms and lead to flair-ups.
Here are some tips to make cookouts more healthy this summer.
Foods with less sugar, sodium and chemical processing are going to be the best choices. 
Instead of filling up on traditional barbecue fare such as burgers, hot dogs, and creamy salads and dips, choose leaner meats such as grilled salmon, skinless chicken breast or lamb shish kebabs. And instead of potato salad or coleslaw, make room on your plate for raw or grilled vegetables. 
For people trying to stick to a mostly plant-based diet, impossible burgers and other vegetarian hot burgers and hot dogs make good choices. 
A favorite part of many cookouts is the dessert table. But consistently indulging in cookies, cakes and other sweets can lead to future health problems. Noshing on some fresh fruit, or even a fruit salad, can provide a sweet fix. 
When it comes to beverages, avoid empty calories by sticking to water, sparkling water and unsweetened teas. People who like to enjoy an alcoholic beverages are advised to drink water in between them. 
Nutritionists warn the least healthy food options at summer cookouts tend to be the most traditional – bratwursts, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, mac and cheese, potato chips and creamy dips. That doesn’t mean that people need to avoid them all together. Instead, they can choose healthier versions of their favorites.
People who love chicken or ribs drenched in barbecue sauce can avoid the extra sugar by making their own sauce, carefully watching how much sugar and sodium are added. They also can select leaner cuts of meat, or seafood alternatives for proteins. 
People who can’t resist chips and dips as an appetizer can try guacamole and hummus, which are filled with healthier fats. 
And let’s not forget the often maligned hot dog. It’s well-known that hot dogs are not the healthiest food, but it is hard to imagine a summer cookout without them, right? Fortunately, there are a number of healthier hot dog options available.
"Avoid traditional or ballpark-labeled hot dogs," Nicole Avena, a New York-based nutrition consultant, told HuffPost. They are usually high in sodium and have the most additives and preservatives.
Whole beef, turkey or chicken are the best options. Choose uncured chicken or turkey hot dogs, which are usually lower in saturated far and less processed than beef hot dogs.
Keep in mind that processed foods, like hot dogs, have been linked to certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, due to the preservation process.
Nutritionists say it’s important to remember that people can treat themselves to some of their favorite unhealthy foods. Just don’t overindulge. Portion out the treats carefully and balance them with healthier options.
Eating before attending a cookout can decrease the likelihood of overindulging. 
"If you show up hungry, you’ll have a harder time making good choices, and then you’re likely to end up overeating," says Beth Czerwony, a registered dietician at The Cleveland Clinic. "The biggest thing is thinking ahead and planning how you’ll stay healthy."
If people are not sure what will be on the menu, they can bring a healthy food with them. This can help them steer clear of temptations. Additionally, Czerwony advises people to fill their plates with healthy food first. They will be more likely to make better choices throughout the event. 
Stay active, Czerwony suggests. At summer cookouts, it is easy to spend a lot of time eating and drinking while socializing. The less active people are, however, the more vulnerable they are to overindulgence. Playing games, like corn hole or volleyball, or swimming, are ways to stay active. Dancing also can be a fun way to burn calories. 
Tracey Romero
PhillyVoice Staff
Food & Drink
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