Picnic Foods Nutrition Experts Avoid

We asked expert dietitians from around the country which barbecue and picnic foods they tell their clients to avoid.
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Some barbecue foods are healthy while others can bust your waistline. We asked expert dietitians from around the country which barbecue and picnic foods they tell their clients to avoid.

Chips

The Nutrition Twins Tammy Lakatos and Lyssie Lakatos, registered dietitians, personal trainers and authors of The Secret to Skinny said, “We tell our clients to watch out when they are munching on chips since it's hard to stick to just one serving; it always turns into many handfuls. Plus, chips don't satiate you and the salt makes you hungrier and thirstier--so you eat more and drink more and end up consuming a lot of extra calories.”

Hot Dogs and Other Cured Meats

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of the New York Times best selling book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim tells clients to avoid cured meats like pepperoni or hot dogs. “Hot dogs are a summer staple, and many picnic baskets include a combo of cheese, crackers and pepperoni. These meats can be quite high in sodium – just 1 ounce of pepperoni can pack nearly 600 milligrams of sodium, about a quarter of the maximum daily cap. There's also the concern that meats preserved by smoking, curing or salting are linked to a greater risk of cancer."

Instead, Sass suggests “for a cancer-fighting, nutrient-rich, lower-sodium and lower-calorie alternative, grill up some Portobello mushrooms marinated in olive oil, vinegar, garlic and herbs, or add bean dip to your picnic basket to serve with 100% whole grain crackers and crudité. You can whip up a simple batch made with chickpeas, white or black beans, or edamame.”

Liquid Calories

It’s no surprise that summer sippers was a top response. Registered dietitians McKenzie Hall and Lisa Dixon from Nourish RDs recommend “instead of glow-in-the-dark punch or sodas, try sparkling water mixed with 100% fruit juice, or toss citrus or cucumber slices into your water for a refreshing and hydrating drink.”

Down South where “sweet tea” is a staple at every barbecue, corporate supermarket dietitian for BI-LO Monica Amburn, RD LD says, “While it may be delicious, sweetened iced tea can pack as many calories as regular soda if the hostess had a heavy hand with the sugar! I recommend skipping empty calories, especially in beverages.” Instead, she suggests to “make half-and-half tea: fill the first half of your glass with unsweetened tea, and then top off with sweet tea. This will easily cut your liquid sugar and calories in half, but still give you a hint of the sweet southern flavor you love!”

Rachel Begun, MS, RD, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol mixers. “Calories from sugary drinks and cocktails add up quickly. Plus, there is research showing the body doesn't compensate for liquid calories the same way as it does for solid food calories. When solid food is eaten, it is compensated for by eating less at other times. However, liquid calories are not compensated for by consuming less at other times. They are just added to the diet, and so contribute to greater calorie intake.”

Mayo-Drenched Salads

Elysa Jacobs Cruse, MS, RD, Manager of Corporate Wellness for Pitney Bowes says “it's easy to know if you've had 1 hamburger or 2 pieces of chicken, but watch out for those "amorphous foods" (foods with no distinct shape) where it is harder to eyeball portion size like mayo-laden potato and macaroni salad (A 1 cup scoop of each can set you back 700 calories!). Focus on vegetable salads and grilled vegetables for your side dishes (and offer to bring a healthy dish to the party!).”

Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! also suggested staying away from popular summer sides. She says, “Watch out for summer foods that seem 'light' but are really bathing suit-busters in disguise. Cold salads such as potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken salad and tuna salad are often mixed with a hefty helping of mayo so can be just as heavy as winter weather foods dripping in gravy. Go for salads dressed with a light touch of low-fat mayo or vinaigrettes made with olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice. Add more celery, onion and other chopped vegetables than the recipe calls for and even throw in some of the season's fresh fruit to make cold salads higher in dietary fiber and other healthy nutrients to keep you glowing all summer long."

Other Smart Tips

Avoiding specific foods wasn’t the only good advice we got. Certified yoga instructor and registered dietitian Jennifer Vagios, MS RD says to “avoid conversations that are around the food, buffet, liquor/bar or dessert table. Why? Because you're more likely to pick, chew and chat when you're eyes or nose catch a glimpse of the food you're surrounded by. Have picnic or BBQ chats near the pool and then go for a swim."

Of course many dietitians don’t like telling clients to avoid any food. Instead, Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD advises clients “if you don't love it and aren't going to enjoy it, you might as well skip it. You can always eat potato chips or soda, so save your calories for Uncle Bob's ribs or a special pie that you can truly savor and enjoy.”

One of our favorite bits of advice comes from Jill Weisenberger, MS RD CDE author of Diabetes Weight Loss- Week by Week who says “I don't tell clients that they need to avoid any particular food because of calories or fats. I ask them to make choices. Basically I say they can eat any food they want, but they cannot eat every food they want.”

TELL US: Which of our expert tips will you be following? Do you have stay-slim summer tips of your own? Please share!

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