Summertime means barbeques with the gang, picnics at the park and day parties by the pool. But don’t let the weekend meal sabotage your favorite swimsuit. With all the taste, but none of the guilt, here is a healthy twist on a traditional summertime meal as prescribed by Professor Francene M. Steinberg, Dr. Emily Cena and Dr. Liz Applegate of the UC Davis department of nutrition.
Professor Francene M. Steinberg: cheeseburger
The cheeseburger is an American classic and a staple found at any picnic. But if you want to turn that traditional burger – a plate of saturated fat and cholesterol – into a more nutritious but also delicious meal, here’s how:
Instead of a regular cheeseburger on a white bun topped with mayonnaise, Steinberg suggests a few changes.
Try the hamburger on a whole-wheat bun, a patty made with 95 percent lean ground beef, topped with mustard, avocado, romaine lettuce, onions and tomatoes instead, she suggested in an e-mail interview.
The 95 percent lean beef is a good source of iron and protein while limiting the excess saturated fats that are thought to promote heart disease.
“Modest amounts of fat in the diet are fine,” she said. “Fats have more than two times the energy density of carbohydrates and proteins, though. So try to include mostly the heart-healthy fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – in your diet. These are found in plant foods.“
Avocado will add some good monounsaturated fat, as well as other vitamins and minerals like beta-carotene (turns into vitamin A in the body), vitamin E and potassium.
Omitting the cheese and mayonnaise will also decrease the saturated fat in the meal, she explained.
The whole-wheat bun instead of a refined white flour bun increases your dietary intake of fiber, B vitamins and carbohydrates, which are great for energy, heart health and your digestive tract, she said.
The tomato is a good source of lycopene, and the onion is a good source of a flavonoid, quercetin, which is a molecule in a class of compounds associated with protection against heart disease and cancer.
“Add a lettuce leaf [such as] some romaine or red-leaf lettuce, or spinach leaves,” she said. “These provide a lot more vitamins than the iceberg lettuce. Think dark green for more B vitamins.“
Dr. Emily Cena: sides
Side dishes can make or break a great picnic meal. Here are some tasty alternatives to a few less-than-healthy regulars.
Instead of the usual macaroni salad, potato chips and iceberg lettuce salad, try a three-bean salad, wheat crackers with hummus dip and a spinach, strawberry and walnut salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing, said Cena in an e-mail interview.
Not to mention the large fat content, macaroni salad made with mayonnaise is especially vulnerable to food-borne illness if not chilled properly, she added. As an alternative, the three-bean salad provides lean protein and fiber to keep you feeling full longer.
Potato chips with sour cream dip may be delicious, but they are also high in saturated fat and sodium.
“Get creative and squeeze in some fiber with some wheat crackers with hummus dip, or baked pita crisps with fresh salsa,” she said. “Both options provide the crunch and flavor you want, without all the fat.“
Instead of having a typical iceberg lettuce salad with ranch dressing, substitute a salad that’s rich in both nutrients and flavor, she said. A great option is a spinach, strawberry and walnut salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing.
“Unlike iceberg, spinach is rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,“ she said. “Strawberries add natural sweetness, color and additional nutrients. Walnuts are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and add some texture to the salad. Monounsaturated fat in the olive oil vinaigrette is a healthy substitute for the saturated fat in ranch dressing and results in an overall lighter-tasting salad.“
Dr. Liz Applegate: ice cream
We all scream for ice cream, but after you eat it, so will the scale.
Ice cream is very high in fat. Instead, try some low-fat plain frozen yogurt with seasonal fruit on top, Applegate said.
Some of the new plain frozen yogurts have probiotics (healthy bacteria), which are great for your intestinal tract function and immune system health, she said.
“Add sliced seasonal fruit on top like apricots and peaches for some added vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants,” she said. “Frozen juice bars made with real fruit juice are also a great and healthy alternative.“
These easy substitutions will maximize the nutrients you get from the energy you eat, she explained. But, remember, even with these healthy choices, if the name of your game is weight control, portion size controls the score.
DAVID LAVINE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.