Friday, July 3, 2009

Pass the Margarita & Burger!!

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. This kicks off the official start to summer BBQs. When trying to eat healthy, a backyard barbecue can seem more daunting than a night out at dinner. Why? A BBQ can be like an all-you-can-eat buffet: a constant flow of burgers, hot dogs, sausage and chicken off the grill; mayonnaise-laden salads galore; chips & dip for appetizers; and dessert will probably end the day.

I am an advocate of enjoying ALL foods. I hate the word "diet" and I hate the words "bad food". That being said, you cannot defy science and the fact remains that for optimal health (and I'm not just talking "thinness"), you need to balance your "eat often" foods with your "eat less often" foods. If you spend most of your week exercising and eating healthier foods like whole grains, veggies, fruits, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products, then by all means enjoy a REAL burger on a BUN with a slice of cheese and some potato salad. One day of indulging will actually do good for your psyche, satisfy your cravings, and keep you from doing an all-out binge on these types of foods down the road. I have seen it all too often with friends, family and clients where they lose tons of weight by following a strict set of dieting rules, only to fall off the wagon and re-gain the weight. One way to help avoid this never-ending cycle is to allow yourself to enjoy all food in moderation.

Here are some quick tips to keep you from leaving a summer BBQ feeling over-stuffed and miserable:

Food options:
  • Appetizers & munchies: If there are raw veggies or shrimp, put some of these on your plate. Shrimp is an excellent source of lean protein and will help fill you a bit if you show up to the BBQ overly hungry. Fill one small plate with a few appetizer choices and stop after that. Constant grazing on chips, nuts, pretzels, or full-fat dips will add more calories to your day before you've had the main meal.
  • Take your plate and divide it into 3 or 4 sections. Half of your plate should be filled with veggies if available. Fill this half with cut-up raw veggies or a green salad. Drizzle with some low-fat dressing. By doing this, a majority of your plate is filled with a low-calorie food, plus will help fill you because of the added fiber.
  • Another section of your plate will have a meat choice (burger, hot dog, chicken, steak, sausage) and the third section will have your "other" salad such as potato, macaroni, Cole slaw or a warm option like baked beans.
  • If there's a smorgasbord of meat options, try choosing just one. Have the hamburger OR the hot dog. Savings by not eating a hot dog on a bun: 240 calories, 15g fat (5 g saturated fat). If you want to try two meats, split the burger with someone and take a small piece of chicken.
  • If fish is available, this is usually the leanest option over beef or chicken. Fish is best when grilled with olive oil and seasonings. Any butter, other heavy sauces or fried fish can make it just as caloric and fattening as beef.
  • If there is a choice between beef, chicken or turkey burgers, usually the turkey burger is the lowest calorie option. But buyer beware: these also tend to be drier if not cooked properly. Chicken burgers can actually be more calories and fat when compared to 95% lean beef, but possibly a leaner choice when compared to full-fat beef. But let's face it, if you're at a BBQ, you're not going to ask the host what type of beef was used or if the chicken burger is all-breast white meat. You can, but that may be borderline obsessive.
  • If you're throwing the shin-dig and make a pasta salad, try adding tons of peppers, tomatoes, celery, onion and other raw veggies to the pasta. Mix with olive oil and a flavored vinegar or use low-fat mayo instead of regular. And use the mayo sparingly. A little can go a long way.
  • Dessert. If there are several dessert options, pick out your favorite and have just one. The more desserts you take, the higher the calorie and fat tally at the end of the day. If there's fruit available, that's always a great choice. Pretty simple.
Bring on the Alcohol!
There is nothing better than a great mixed drink or a refreshing beer on a summer day. I'll cheers to that! I hate to be a Debbie-downer, but beer, wine and mixed drinks all have calories. And liquid calories are not invincible to your butt or waistline. Light beers have less calories but still add up. People think Guinness is heavy, but a 12 oz glass of Guinness has 126 calories vs. an Amstel Light, which has 95 calories per 12 oz. That's only a 31 calorie difference. A regular Corona has 135 calories. If you like light beers, go for it. But if you love the heavier, darker versions, they are okay too. Just keep it to a couple. You can easily do the math and see that 4 12-oz Coronas adds up to 540 calories of liquid consumption alone. Also keep in mind that the more you drink, the more you lower your inhibitions, which can lead to three helpings of food and "grazing" throughout the entire BBQ.

Wine. On average, a 6 oz. glass of red or white wine has 150 calories. Split a bottle with your pal and you've taken in approximately 375 calories.

Liquor. Summertime is margarita time! I love a good margarita. On average, a shot of liquor has 100 calories. That's before you add in mixers like juices, soda, sour mix, or other alcohols. Enjoy a "lower calorie" margarita by using pure lime juice vs. sugary margarita mix. Add a splash of orange juice for sweetness. Two shots of a sugary margarita mix add 100 calories vs. 1-2 shots of straight lime juice providing 10-20 calories at most. Calorie savings: 80!

These are just some tips. I will probably sound like a broken record in many of my blog posts. I will always condone eating all foods and you DO NOT need to "avoid" anything. However, you need to take the higher fat, higher calorie foods in smaller portions and eat them less often. And I will always be a big exercise advocate. So many clients I've counseled did the bare minimum if any exercise. Regular, vigorous exercise of about 3-5 days per week will help give you more wiggle room in your diet for a great BBQ. It will not give you a license to eat heavy every single day, but you will certainly burn off more of these party calories quicker if you're moving vs. sitting around in a hammock all summer or in front of the TV with your air-conditioner on.

So... pass the ketchup please!

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