Published on 05/14/09

Mind your peas and cukes this summer

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Summer is the season for swimsuits and snacky treats. But to stay feeling and looking good, remember to watch what you eat, says a University of Georgia nutritionist.

While a cool smoothie sounds refreshing on a hot day, be careful. These berry beverages pack quite a caloric punch, said Connie Crawley, a nutritionist with UGA Cooperative Extension.

For example, strawberries and bananas are a healthy snack; but when they are mixed in a blender with yogurt and sugary flavorings, they can add up to massive calories. Some concoctions can be as much as 700 calories per serving.

The human body is trained to drink as much as it needs to stay hydrated. For it to recognize calories as nourishment, however, the calories must be chewed, not chugged. So instead of sipping it through a straw, eat your fruit and yogurt with a spoon. The brain will accept the calories as a source of food and not think it is a drink.

When traveling this summer visiting theme parks and ballparks, watch your calories by avoiding high-fat, high-sugar foods. “If you can bring food or plan to eat before you get to the park, do that,” Crawley said. “Or plan one thing to eat. Don’t eat the whole time you are there.”

A small bag of popcorn is a better choice at the ballpark than a soft pretzel, which is loaded with carbohydrates and salt.

At theme parks or festivals, opt for a candied apple instead of a funnel cake or fried Oreos. And never eat an onion flower. Once this vegetable is covered in batter and deep fried, it blossoms into more than 1,000 calories and 70 grams of fat.

A few more healthy alternatives are:

• Watermelon and cantaloupe. Melons are packed with beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, all of which are good for your skin and immune system. Watermelon is more than 90 percent water and loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer. Wash the melon before cutting to keep the knife from carrying containments from the rind to the flesh.

• Cucumbers, which are 96 percent water and have almost no calories. Add a little vinegar, onions, water and sugar to make a salad.

• Peanuts. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are safe to pack for summer camps or picnics where refrigeration isn’t available. They and other nuts like pecans, cashews and walnuts are packed with protein. But don’t eat a whole jar at one sitting because they contain oil. Add a few to a salad or cereal.

• Fish and chicken, which are good choices for grilling. Salmon, mackerel and tuna are sources of omega-3 fatty acids, something most people don’t get enough of. Consider cooking with garlic or onions and cutting back on salt.

• Whole-grain breads and breakfast cereals. The coarser the grain, the better. Oatmeal, brown rice, oat bran or cooked cereals are less processed than boxed cold cereals and contain less sugar and salt. Look at the labels when choosing a cold cereal. You may be surprised at the amount of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and salt some cereals contain.

• Cooked dry or canned beans and peas. They can help you cut back on saturated fats. Popular in vegetarian, Mediterranean, Mexican and Chinese cuisine, they can top salads or rice for a protein-packed meal.

• Tomatoes. Rich in vitamin C and lycopene, they are an excellent summer choice.

• Green, yellow or red bell peppers. They are non-fat, low-calorie and filled with beta-carotene and vitamin C. Kids will eat strips as a snack or tossed in salads. Try adding a few to an omelet.

• Iced tea. Antioxidants in tea have been shown to help prevent cancer. Cut calories by reducing the amount of sugar. Remember to drink at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water, tea, non-fat milk or other low-calorie fluids every day.

(April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.