Summer is the peak season for many varieties of fresh produce that are filled with fiber, antioxidants, and more nutrients. Vegetables and fruits are on menus and in stores everywhere, but be warned: some of the most popular ways of preparing them are not quite as healthy as you may think. These are some “healthy”-seeming summer foods that are not so healthy, and what you can try instead.
Making smoothies can be a great way to get a wider variety of fresh summer produce, such as berries, cucumbers, and Swiss chard. However, smoothies are not always that healthy, since they can deliver 40 to 100 or more grams of sugar in a serving. Blood sugar may spike, whether that sugar comes from added sugars, such as honey, sugar, ice cream, low-fat sweetened yogurt, or fruit juice concentrate, or natural, such as from fruit and fruit juice.
Even without added sugars or an excessive number of calories, smoothies can be problematic if you are trying to lose weight. That is because liquid calories, such as those in smoothies, are less satisfying than solid ones, such as from whole fruit and salads. Peanut butter and avocado are healthy but high in calories, and it is easy for too much to creep in.
Whole foods are usually considered healthier, but there are healthy ways to indulge if you are craving a smoothie. Using as many fresh fruits and vegetables as you want, and limiting the amount of sweeteners and fats, and using ice and unsweetened almond milk instead of whole milk can all lower the calorie content.
2. Tomato Bisque
When tomatoes are ripening so fast you can hardly keep up, you may find yourself cooking them. That’s great, since cooking them releases a antioxidant called lycopene, but what else is in your recipe? Is it cream in tomato bisque, or sugar and sausage in sauce destined for refined white pasta or beefy, starchy, cheesy lasagna?
You can use up your tomatoes and some other bountiful produce without adding unhealthy components. For example, gazpacho has tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and onions, low-fat cottage cheese lasagna can be made with tomato sauce and eggplant slices instead of noodles, and ratatouille has a savory blend of tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini.
3. Zucchini Bread
Zucchini bread may be the default way to use the abundance of zucchini from a garden, but it has only a small amount of zucchini in relation to its sugar, starch, and fat. In fact, a serving can have about 2 tablespoons of zucchini (¼ of a serving of vegetables) and 20 grams of sugar.
Zucchini noodles (“zoodles”), grilled zucchini, baked zucchini pancakes made with egg whites and almond meal, and zucchini boats stuffed with soy protein or turkey burger are all great-tasting ways to use up tons of zucchini. If you are dead set on zucchini bread (it sure is delicious!), using whole-wheat flour, cutting the sugar, and substituting sour cream or yogurt for oil can cut the calories in half while giving you fiber.
4. Corn on the Cob
A vegetable with good intentions takes a wrong turn when it is slathered with butter. Guess what – corn tastes great without the addition of saturated fat! Grilled, broiled, steam, boiled, and roasted corn on the cob are simple and fit for everyday dinners or outdoor barbecues. Sprinkling on a bit of cheese or chili powder can add some character.
5. Crab Cakes
Crab is a source of lean protein, B vitamins, and a range of minerals. Crab cakes are another story, as nutritious crab meat is nearly overwhelmed by crushed crackers, breadcrumbs, and butter before it is fried or deep fried. You can get almost the same result by using whole-wheat breadcrumbs or panko and plain Greek yogurt, and pan-frying your cakes in cooking spray instead of cups of oil.
6. Broccoli Salad
Summer picnics inevitably have a mayo-laden salad, but it is such a shame to mix high-fiber, low-calorie, nutrient-rich broccoli with mayonnaise, bacon, cheese, sugar, and raisins. Keep the broccoli and ingredients such as sunflower seeds, diced onion, and diced celery, and turn it into a healthier version by adding fat-free yogurt, halved grapes, and sun-dried tomatoes.
7. Veggie Burger on Wheat
Health nuts eat veggie burgers and therefore they are healthy, right? Wrong! At both fast food chains and casual restaurants, veggie burgers are often higher in calories than all-beef burgers, and can have over 1,000 calories at certain family restaurants. A “wheat” bun is not always “whole-wheat,” and a side of fries makes the meal even worse for your waistline.
Skipping the mayo or other creamy spread and having only half the bun or just a leaf of lettuce can cut calories, and so can swapping out fries for a salad or side of veggies.
8. Peach Pie
Sweet, juicy peaches are perfect just as they are, loaded with fiber, vitamins A and C, and potassium. A slice of peach pie, though, also has sugar, white flour, and butter or shortening. If plain peaches don’t do it for you, try them with cottage cheese and cinnamon. A baked dessert with sliced peaches topped with a mixture of oats, cinnamon, and walnut or pecan pieces is free from added sugar and has less than half the calories as pie.
9. Berry Jam
Blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, and raspberry all start out high in fiber, relatively low in sugars, and full of antioxidants. That changes when berries are turned into jelly or jam made with more sugar than berries. If you are looking for a companion to peanut butter, plain berries can serve the purpose. Or, you can cook blueberries until they thicken, or cook other berries with pectin for a jam with no added sugar.
A cold glass of lemonade is so sweet, so refreshing, and so bad for you. If thirst and the flavor of lemon are what are driving you, ice water or unsweetened decaf ice tea with a wedge of lemon and a few drops of lemon juice can do the trick. If you are craving citrus and sweetness, try reaching for an orange or tangerine.