The Healthiest And Unhealthiest Summer Food Favorites

During the summer, opportunities to eat and drink outside start to pop up left and right. Before you know it, you're going to a barbecue every weekend, sipping beer on the back patio daily, and eating hamburger after hamburger in the mosquito-filled air.[related]

Along with sunburns and bee stings, one of the most prevalent hazards of the summer season is the excess of unhealthy food options. It's easy to overdo it, especially when hot dogs, potato salad, and ice cream are calling your name.

But it's even easier to let yourself fall into a trap of feeling guilty after every meal. Unless you have a legitimate health concern that would warrant real consequences of eating particular types of foods, there's no need to fret over calories and indulgences. It's summer! enjoy the foods specific to the season while they last. You don't want fall to arrive, complete with pumpkin spice lattes and other fatty foods of its own, without having satisfied your summer food cravings.

Don't stress about it! Enjoy the outdoors and grilling season, but know what you're eating. Here are the healthiest and unhealthiest summer food favorites.

Healthiest: Baked Beans

Baked beans are a high-protein, low-fat side dish you can count on at most barbecues. They're also rich with fiber and other important nutrients. Store-bought baked beans can include excessive amounts of sodium — but if the baked beans are homemade, you can bet on them being a healthy choice.

Healthiest: Corn

There are many ways so enjoy corn, one of summer's most popular vegetables. On its own, corn is high in fiber and other nutrients while remaining a low-fat food. It even has some protein hiding in its kernels! Grill your cob perfectly with a simple method like this one and enjoy all the benefits corn has to offer.

Healthiest: Fish Tacos

Minus the margaritas, Taco Tuesday could totally make it onto your healthy meal plan for the week. Fish tacos are an especially summery selection, and they're also especially healthy. Since fish is so flavorful on its own, you don't need sugary or high-fat sauces to stuff in your tortilla. Simply add a vegetable-filled slaw, dip your tacos in some homemade guacamole, and enjoy!

Healthiest: Fruit Salad

There's no time like summer to snack on a cold, freshly cut bowl of fruit. It's almost impossible to eat too much fresh fruit — the berries in season during the summer are jam-packed with antioxidants, fiber, and natural energy to fuel your lively summer day.

Healthiest: Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken sandwiches are a low-fat yet still delicious option to replace a greasy burger. You won't miss out on the joys of the grill, and you'll get a large dose of protein with your meal. Just don't let the edges char too much — those black grill marks taste great, but they could increase your risk of cancer!

Healthiest: Grilled Vegetables

Grilling vegetables is a simple, low-effort way to make your summer vegetables taste great. Pretty much any vegetable you can think of tastes great on the grill. Throw some artichokes on the grill for a healthier way to eat them than in creamy spinach dip, or grill a cauliflower steak for a flavorful way to eat the popular superfood.

Healthiest: Kebabs

For a fun twist on grilled chicken or vegetables, try making kebabs. Everything's more fun to eat when you eat it off a stick — plus, the flavors of the foods blend together as they cook, making everything you slather in sauce taste great. Get creative with your kebabs by adding some fruit to the mix or spearing together pieces of bacon.

Healthiest: Pasta Salad

Pasta has a bad reputation for loading you with carbs and being covered with creamy, fattening sauce, but not all pasta salads are so bad. Drizzling pasta with some olive oil and mixing in tons of vegetables can create a healthy side dish to complement whatever lean proteins you've thrown on the grill. Other nutritious additions could be olives, cheese, or even garlic, which has a surprising number of health benefits.

Healthiest: Salsa

The sky's the limit with fresh, homemade salsa. Whether you prefer it spicy or mild doesn't make much difference besides a slight boost to your metabolism — either way, you're getting fiber and nutrients from all the vegetables chopped inside. You might even make a fruit salsa to throw some extra antioxidants in the mix!

Healthiest: Watermelon Salad

Watermelon is not only delicious in the summer when it's in season, but it's also super hydrating, making it an ideal choice for outdoor snacking. Salads can also benefit from the addition of chopped watermelon; summer salads often pair the fruit with feta cheese and dark, leafy greens.

Unhealthiest: Coleslaw

You might think this cabbage-based dish is a healthy side dish for your hamburger or hot dog, but slaws are often soaked in too much mayonnaise and not enough of anything else. There's nothing wrong with adding a dollop or two of the creamy shredded side to your plate. But if you're looking to limit your saturated fats or if you're choosing coleslaw for the sake of its nutritional value, you might be better off opting for something else.

Unhealthiest: Fried Chicken

Deep-fried and greasy chicken is almost impossible not to enjoy. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, it's harder than you'd think to cook fried chicken just right. Cooking them involves lots of fatty ingredients and lots of built up grease. You might be better off skipping the intensive labor in favor of some simple grilled chicken. If you cook grilled chicken the right way, it won't even feel like much of a sacrifice!

Unhealthiest: Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are served at almost every outdoor event in the summer; but though they're served as a "snack" in movie theaters, these entrees are worse for you than you might think. Some store-bought hot dogs are healthier than others, but all of them have one thing in common: They're likely to contain ingredients that, once you learn what they are, could turn you off from eating hot dogs for good.

Unhealthiest: Ice Cream

Going a whole summer without eating ice cream seems like a sin. On a hot summer day, there's nothing more enticing than a cold cone of fun-flavored ice cream. But maybe resist giving in to temptation every time you pass by an ice cream truck — ice cream, while delicious and a perfectly normal part of a healthy diet, contains lots of sugar and saturated fat. If you experience any of these signs, you might be eating too much sugar.

Unhealthiest: Lobster Roll

A good lobster roll is slathered in butter and dripping with fat — for good reason. Lobster, already a decadent food, only gets better when you add lots of fatty flavor and stuff it in a perfectly toasted roll. In Maine, you'll get lobster rolls with cold mayonnaise. Outside of Maine, lobster-rolls sometimes look a little different — Connecticut-style lobster rolls, for instance, are served warm and made with butter. Of course, you know what information you're about to hear next: Neither mayo nor butter is anywhere near a low-calorie or low-fat food. Lobster rolls are served in huge portions and don't hold back on the saturated fat.

Unhealthiest: Pie

With the heaps of sugar, butter, and flour that go into baking each warm, fruit-filled pie, you knew this dessert wasn't going to be as nutritious as a salad. Go ahead and enjoy yourself this summer — eat dessert when you crave it, especially if someone made it special. With all the fresh fruit that's in season, summer just might be the best time to eat pie!

Unhealthiest: Pork Ribs

Pork ribs, in any and all varieties, are an especially fatty cut of meat. Some cuts trim more of the fat than others — but regardless, portion size is key when it comes to consuming ribs. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about cooking the perfect ribs, so if you do choose to indulge, you won't regret it.

Unhealthiest: Potato Salad

Like coleslaw, potato salad often makes an appearance at most barbecues. But, also like coleslaw, it's usually made with a great deal of mayo. Would barbecues even exist without mayonnaise? It's hard to avoid eating at least some of the fatty condiment — if you're looking to cut back on saturated fat, consider picking a side to indulge in that sounds truly enjoyable, rather than feeling like you need to load your plate with everything that's offered.

Unhealthiest: Pulled Pork

There are two most common types of slow-cooked, barbecue-style meats: pork and chicken. Chicken is the lower-calorie option that's significantly lower in fat as well. Pork is a relatively fatty meat in general — though it does have some beneficial nutrients. The real caloric consequences come when you soak your pulled pork in sugary sauces and fatty condiments.

Unhealthiest: Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes do manage to sneak in a few vegetables, since they're made with onions and peppers. But the ground beef is loaded with sodium and sugar before it's served on the burger bun — you might be better off with an actual burger.

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