Summertime…and the Grilling is Easy: Nutritional Notes

As the Fourth of July brings on a delayed season of celebrations, here's how to make your party healthier and more delicious.

You've waited a long time for this.

In the U.S., it's always been a highlight of summer and it is just around the corner. Many of us have a lifetime of memories involving July Fourth: fireworks and family and friends and festivities and, in keeping with the theme, frankfurters. (Fun fact: estimated number of hot dogs that will be consumed over the holiday: 150 million. Comforting reality: It will just feel like that number is per person.)

So you are looking forward to the day, your eagerness enhanced by the fact that last year there were no parties, nor picnics, nor potlucks nor potato salad.

It's going to be great to go hog wild. Loosen the collar and the belt.

But wait. You find yourself reading a piece about preparing and enjoying summer foods.

Written by a healthcare company.

Oh, this can't be good…

Not to Worry
"Grilling can be one of your healthiest and tastiest cooking options," said Steven Hertzler, PhD, RD, an Abbott senior scientist and clinical researcher.

Whew. You can keep reading…

Admittedly, holiday dining tends to have a less than shining reputation because of its long, rich history of excessive consumption of one sort or the other. However, the things that we tend to like most, that bring the most culinary satisfaction, will not only do us no harm but, in many cases do us good.

Let's head straight to that barbeque and discuss what should be on it. "There are lots of great entree options that were made for the grill," said Hertzler. "Many favorites are rich sources of protein and are either low in fat or have heart healthy types of fat. Chicken breasts are excellent and can be marinated in any number of sauces for a wide variety of tastes. While you may want to avoid some barbeque sauces that have excessive sugar, there are plenty of choices that are delicious as well as healthy.

"The same is generally true of other favorites like salmon, shrimp and other seafood, as well as lean pork and plant-based, portion-controlled patties like veggie burgers that many people can't distinguish from ground beef. Even red meat, including steak, can be the center of a healthy meal, when eaten in moderation."

But we have all enjoyed enough outdoor meals to know that it is those clever side dishes that are often the delivery systems for foodstuffs that we may come to regret having met. Heavier, mayo-intensive salads like potato or coleslaw (the latter of which can also include added sugar) may not be in our long-term best interests but, fortunately, can be replaced with items like vinegar-based slaw or grill-friendly items that taste better and are healthier.

It Really is a Magical Fruit
One all-star side dish addition to a healthy summer meal is the versatile bean.

"Beans are a good source of protein and pretty rich in fiber. Pairing baked beans with corn on the cob will provide additional fiber and is a pretty tasty combination," said Hertzler. Other excellent foods can be added to healthier choices as well. "Spinach and sunflower seeds are good in that they both have lots of vitamin E, as well as being great additions to salads. There are many foods that are different eating experiences, when grilled. Lots of people enjoy grilled plantains and asparagus and once you've had a grilled peach, you'll want more."

A Short Trip from Farm to Fork
For those hosts with access to farmer's markets throughout the summer, the options can be fresher and more plentiful. Local farms often provide all manner of proteins and vegetables, with some of their finest items being fresh, seasonal fruits that can replace, or be served within, desserts that otherwise have added sugars and unnecessary fats.

"Fruit salads are not only delicious but can be extra special for featuring produce that is only available during certain times. Watermelon, a summer favorite, has some additional benefits," said Hertzler. "It is a great snack or dessert on a hot day when you're looking to rehydrate or just enjoy. In addition to being 90% water, it adds Vitamin C, as well as beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A, to your system. It also contributes electrolytes, including potassium.

"Watermelon is also rich in an amino acid called L-citrulline which the body converts to L-arginine, an essential amino acid that helps relax blood vessels (through its role in nitric oxide production) and improves circulation which, in turn, may enhance sports performance."

Extending the 4th Through the 14th. And Beyond.
The Fourth of July is not just a day but also a state of mind. It represents a celebration of summer, so it's best to take advantage of it for as long as possible.

"If you are going to spend time at the barbeque, you should make the most of it," said Hertzler. "Grill up 5-10 items at a time, store them in reusable plastic containers and enjoy them for days after in any number of different ways.

"Some people like to buy pre-measured rice packets that they can add to the grilled food and mix with fresh vegetables, sometimes adding sauces, like teriyaki, for an easy lunch or dinner. Or if you are in the mood, adding grilled shrimp or chicken to a salad makes for a great meal."

Finding the right portions and proportions can be relatively easy if you use the U.S. MyPlate program. "It is a great guide for deciding what is a good mix of foods," said Hertzler. "The key is balance between different types of real, whole foods throughout the day. You can start with a serving of protein, usually about the size of your palm, and then add a variety of fruits, vegetables, etc."

As with most matters nutritional, mastering the must-haves of your Fourth of July celebration is an exercise in balancing wants and needs. Don't try to make up for last year's lost holiday by squeezing it into this year's, but rather think of this Fourth as being the first Fourth of the rest of your life.

We care about your long-term well-being.

We're a healthcare company.

That can be good.