10 Healthy Alternatives to Your Favorite Summer Snacks
Summer is a great time to enjoy fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, and maybe a few citrus- or fruit-infused beverages. But during the laid-back vibe that summer emits, you might be tempted to surrender to some not-so-healthy food choices. That’s why we spoke with Amanda Jimenez, M.D., an internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Flower Mound and Texas Health Internal Medicine – Vista Ridge, to identify some quick, healthy swaps this summer that you won’t feel guilty indulging in!
It wouldn’t be summer without ice cream, would it? Mixed with Texas’ sweltering heat, ice cream is the dessert du jour for many families during the summer. But while these sweet treats can definitely be refreshing on a hot day, their high fat and sugar content are sure to leave you feeling sluggish and bloated.
Instead, swap out that bowl of ice cream for a smoothie bowl, like the ones featured on Real Simple, filled with frozen fruit, juices, greens, and grains. Even though these nutrition-packed bowls are typically eaten for breakfast, they’ve got just enough sweetness to satisfy your craving for something chilly and refreshing without weighing you down.
A simple smoothie will do the trick as well. Jimenez suggests this simple formula to make the perfect one every time:
One cup of your favorite fresh or frozen fruit + a handful of spinach or broccoli + two cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk
The spinach provides vitamins A, C, E, K and iron, and broccoli provides vitamins B1, B6, E and iron, while the fruit and creamy milk make this frozen concoction feel like a treat.
“Soda intake should be limited due to its high sugar content,” Jimenez says. “Sugars such as sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are found in sodas and contain lots of calories but no essential nutrients, protein, fats, vitamins or minerals. That’s why they call it ‘empty calories.’”
We’ve talked about the downside of soda before, but we know how tempting a cool, carbonated beverage can be when the mercury soars. If it’s that crisp carbonation you crave, Jimenez suggests reaching for a naturally flavored sparkling water like La Croix, instead.
“Cherry Lime and Watermelon Kiwi are two of my favorites and there are 20-plus flavors to choose from,” Jimenez explains. “But for those who can’t live without soda, there is a zero-calorie, sugar-free option on the market called Zevia with flavors similar to Coke, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, root beer and orange soda.”
Zevia contains stevia, which is a sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant and is sweeter than sugar, with a longer duration of taste. Jimenez warns that although drinks sweetened with natural sugars are better alternatives to those with artificial sugar, they should still be consumed responsibly.
“Consumption of all foods and sweets in moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle,” she explains. “Don’t forget that drinking plenty of water is necessary year-round, especially in summer months when it is hot and we perspire in excess.”
Fruit Cobblers and Pies
It wouldn’t quite be summer in North Texas if there wasn’t a fruit cobbler or pie on the table at a backyard barbecue or community get together. After all, summer is a prime growing season for some our favorite fruits, like blueberries, peaches, strawberries and blackberries. But did you know that adding dough and extra sugar to fruit actually counteracts the vitamins and antioxidants they provide?
If you’re still looking for a warm, fruity treat, Jimenez suggests throwing some fresh fruit on the grill.
“Making fruit kabobs can be fun for both adults and children alike,” she says. “Some fruits that easily can be placed on a kabob are orange slices, pineapple, kiwi, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.”
If you have picky eaters, Jimenez says filling up ice cream cones with freshly cut fruit and topping it off with a dollop of whipped cream can give the illusion of a sweet treat without all the sugar (and mess!) of ice cream.
Burgers and Hot Dogs
Cookouts are a staple for summertime in North Texas. It’s hard to walk or drive through a neighborhood on a summer weekend without smelling charcoal and grilled meat. But although tasty, red meat contains a high amount of saturated fat. A standard quarter-pound serving of 80/20 hamburger meat contains six grams of saturated fat, while one hot dog contains 4 grams of saturated fat, and that’s before you add other toppings high in saturated fat like cheese, chili, mayonnaise and bacon.
Since eating foods high in saturated fats can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, which also raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, the American Heart Association suggests limiting your saturated fat intake to about 13 grams per day for the average 2,000 calorie diet.
If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to red meat burgers, Jimenez suggests using ground turkey, bison, elk, salmon, or veggies like chickpea or black bean burgers. For hot dogs, look for organic or extra lean options made with turkey.
“A common question I get is, ‘which is better, a turkey burger or a veggie burger?’” Jimenez says. “Both turkey and veggie burgers have approximately the same amount of calories, however, veggie burgers have more vitamins and minerals.”
Jimenez says if you decide to try veggie burgers, it’s important to find low-sodium options, ideally less than 300 milligrams. And don’t forget those hamburger and hot dogs buns which can slow down your digestive tract and make you feel heavy with their high amount of carbohydrates and gluten.
Jimenez suggests wrapping your burger in a lettuce leaf or using Portobello mushroom tops if you want to try a healthier swap, and for those who prefer bread, a low-calorie wheat bun is a better option than a traditional bun.
If you’ve taken a trip down to the Texas Gulf Coast, chances are you’ve indulged in the fresh fish that the region has to offer. Many times, it is served up heavily battered and fried or swimming in butter, making a healthy omega-3-rich option not so healthy.
“It is recommended to consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids two to three times per week to decrease LDL, or bad cholesterol, and increase HDL, or good cholesterol,” Jimenez says. “When consuming fish it is best to grill or bake it, since frying it decreases the content of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other nutrients.”
Whether you’re sitting seaside or would like to mix up your dinner plans with some fish, Jimenez suggests trying mackerel, salmon, albacore tuna, trout, herring or sardines, which are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.
“Side dishes for a BBQ often contain traditional pasta, however, a new healthy alternative to this is veggie pasta,” Jimenez says. “For example, spinach and zucchini pasta are popular right now.”
You can even introduce ‘zoodles’ into your favorite pasta dishes, which are vegetables like squash or zucchini spiralized into long strings similar to pasta. Steam them until al dente and dress them with healthy dressings like Bragg Organic Vinaigrette, Annie’s Naturals organic dressings, or a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
For some, a great way to end a long, hot summer day is with an alcoholic drink in hand, but many drinks harbor more calories and sugar than you would think.
“Summer is notorious for rest and relaxation. Although our mind goes quickly to a beach with an exotic drink in hand, drinks that have a high sugar content should be avoided, like daiquiris, piña coladas and bellinis,” Jimenez says.
Fear not, Jimenez offers up some healthier alternatives if you’d like to kick back with something that has some punch to it.
The ‘Skinny’ Margarita
- Silver tequila
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Agave nectar for sweetness
Follow measurements for a regular margarita, with the lime juice and agave nectar replacing the pre-mixed margarita mix.
Vodka & Sparkling Water Refresher
- 1 oz vodka
- 4 oz flavor-infused sparkling water, like the La Croix we talked about earlier
- A spoonful of fresh fruit
- Lemon juice to taste
- 1 oz coconut rum
- 2 oz Zero sugar, zero calorie coconut water, like Bai
- 2 oz Pineapple flavor-infused sparkling water
- A pineapple wedge to dress the glass
- 4 oz super-chilled white wine or rosé
- 2 oz super-chilled club soda or sparkling water
- Slice of lime to dress the glass
So, What If I Still Indulge?
When push comes to shove, we know the laid-back vibe summer emits can really sway our food choices, even if we typically eat healthy throughout the rest of the year. Although summer is a great time to let loose a bit, Jimenez says it’s an equally good time to head outdoors to burn off a few of those extra calories you may consume.
Jimenez recommends performing moderate intensity exercise for approximately 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Moderate intensity exercises can include brisk walking, using the elliptical, jogging or riding a bike.
“The benefits of regular exercise include improvement in cardiovascular and physical fitness, improvement in cholesterol levels, decreased blood pressure, improvement or prevention of diabetes, decreased inflammation, and a decreased risk of osteoporosis,” Jimenez says.
Jimenez adds that you see your primary care provider for a physical before starting a regular exercise program, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while or you have known or suspected cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease or liver disease.
Summer may be full of opportunities to indulge, but it also offers up plenty of opportunities to make easy, healthier swaps. If you find you need a bit more help navigating the myriad of menu items available at restaurants, family cookouts or celebrations this summer, and year-round, Texas Health is here to help with nutrition services. To learn more about the nutrition services available at a Texas Health location near you, visit TexasHealth.org/locations.