Friday, May 27, 2016

Kick-Off to Summer! Staying healthy at Summer Parties

Note: This is a re-post of my blog from 5 years ago!

This weekend is one of the most fun & exciting of the year.... the kick-off to summer! Most people enjoy this special weekend by heading to the Jersey Shore, going to countless parties, and drinking endless supplies of beer (and let's not forget that this weekend is when most bars get into full swing!).

Most Memorial Day parties have similar food items: hotdogs, hamburgers, pasta salad, potato salad, baked beans, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and kegs of beer. Not the healthiest way to enjoy your friends, but hey, it's fun!

If you are a person that rarely eats processed meat (by rarely I mean less than once a month), then I am not going to tell you to avoid eating hot dogs and hamburgers at a party this weekend, since you are allowed to live a little. If you follow a healthy diet most of the time, you can afford to have processed meat or treats occasionally. However, it is always good to be educated about what you are consuming... so here I go!

Hot Dogs and hamburgers are not ideal foods just because of their high fat and saturated fat contents, but also because studies show that when these products are cooked (especially on the grill) they form heterocyclic amines (HCA's) which have shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Burnt bacon is actually one of the worst for you in terms of HCA's, since it is a very fatty and highly processed meat- sorry bacon lovers! Below I show why hot dogs are not the greatest, but basically: high fat, high saturated fat, high sodium, low-nutritional benefit. Recent studies show that people that eat red and processed meats have a very different makeup of gut bacteria compared to people that never eat these foods. Those gut bacteria have been found to break down carnitine into a compound call TMAO which increases atherosclerosis/heart disease risk.

Anyway, here are my tips for taking on summer barbeques when healthy options are not always available:

1) BRING A HEALTHY SIDEDISH! This is my #1 recommendation, since every host loves a guest that brings something, and bringing a healthy sidedish can benefit everyone at the party (rather than giving just the host a bottle of wine which they don't need). Plus, if you know what is in your dish, you can load up on that instead of high-fat potato salad.

2) If you don't want to eat a hot dog or hamburger, don't! Unless you are staying at the party for >5 hours, chances are you can last that long without having protein. So, if healthier salads are available, eat those, or something else that isn't terrible for you. Baked beans, although usually containing high fructose corn syrup, would be a fine option since beans are extremely nutritious. Just watch your portion size! Be sure to eat a protein-rich meal before or after the party.

3) Instead of having a cheeseburger, make a cheese-sandwich with lots of tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, with 1 (maybe 2, if you must) slices of cheese. While I don't advocate eating a lot of cheese, this would be a better option than the cheeseburger.

4) Eat 1/2 of a hamburger. Again, load up on the extras (L,T,O, pickle), but you can definitely feel satisfied on just 1/2 of the burger. Don't think eating the burger without the bun is "healthy", it's not.

5) If you really have a hankering to participate in the meat eating, I vote burger. The burger is less processed and contains more protein than the hot dog. A 1.6 oz Oscar Meyer Beef Hotdog has 150 calories, 14 g fat (6 g SFA), 461 mg sodium (20%) and only 5 g of protein. A 4 oz. 20% fat hamburger (which most people buy) contains 307 calories, 20 g fat (7.5 g SFA), 85 mg sodium (4%), 30 g protein, and 16% DV for iron. So, ounce for ounce the burger is much more nutritious. If you ate the equivalent amount in hot dog, 4 oz would cost you 368 calories, 32 g fat (12 g SFA), over 50% DV sodium, and only 12 g protein.

As far as beer, try to limit the amount you drink and try to choose light beers. Drink glasses of water in between and with each drink.

If you are hosting a party I encourage you to offer 100% Whole Wheat buns, offer turkey burgers, grilled chicken or lean turkey burgers as an option, and definitely healthy salads as side dishes.

Note: I realize that some people have a burger once or twice a year. If this is you, feel free to have it... especially since that low frequency is not enough to change your gut bacteria which is the main concern nowadays.

Have a great weekend and eat safe! (i.e.: be conscious of food safety... raw ground beef is not something you want to mess with).


SelfNutritionData (hot dogs and hamburgers)
ADA Times, Spring 2011, Vol 8, issue 3. "Analysis Explores Levels of Cancerous Compounds in Ready-to-Eat Meat Products"

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