8 Foods to Avoid at Your Next Barbecue

By: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Summertime means grilling, enjoying the warm summer air, and spending time eating traditional barbecue foods with family and friends. Grilled vegetables, light summer salads, and other entrees and side dishes can be healthful, but unfortunately there could be a few frequent guests at your summer dinner table that may not be as healthful as you expected.

Do you know which foods may be ruining your healthy eating efforts? 

We’re here to help you identify the unhealthy food items on your barbecue table and help you find smarter, healthier swaps.

1. Potato Salad: Potato salad is a frequent flyer at the barbecue table; however, it can be one of the most unhealthful members invited to the party. Potato salad can be loaded with mayonnaise and other unhealthy and processed dressings added for seasoning to make it rich and creamy. The average 1/2 cup portion of potato salad contains 220 calories and up to 12 grams of fat and usually a whole lot of sodium.

Healthier Potato Salad Swaps: Make healthy swaps by using sweet potatoes or yams over white potatoes, and try using smashed avocado instead of mayonnaise; add fresh herbs or spices such as oregano, basil, cilantro or to spice it up try adding cayenne pepper. Try this healthy, hearty, vegan potato salad.

2. Corn Salad: Corn salad may sound like a healthy option; however, corn is considered more of a starch than a vegetable, and corn salad can be just as calorie, fat, and sodium-laden as it’s friend, potato salad.  Additionally, corn salad is often made using heavy dressings and mayonnaise, and in some cases contains more calories than potato salad; on average a 1/2 cup portion contains around  240 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Healthier Corn Salad Swaps: Similar to potato salad, making healthy swaps when making corn salad that include using olive oil over mayonnaise/butter and adding fresh herbs and spices for seasoning can help to cut back on the sodium content. You can skip it all together and make a Corn & Tomato Salsa or a  Summer Quinoa Salad instead, and you can add boiled corn!

3. Dips: Chips and dips are popular at any barbecue. Processed guacamole is a good example of a healthy dip gone bad; it often can contain ingredients such as sour cream and mayonnaise that can not only double the caloric content but the fat as well. Additionally, dips that have added sour cream and mayonnaise contain saturated fat that may be bad for your heart. Other dips that may show up at your barbecue include crab dip that can pack as much as 450 calories per serving, and artichoke dip that can pack as much as 250 calories per 1 serving.

Healthy Dip Swaps: Make a simple, homemade guacamole recipe or if you’re tight on time seek out healthier dip options at the grocery store including hummus.

4. Baked beans: Beans are great for your health as they’re a source of plant-based protein and fiber; however, all beans are not created equal. Baked beans, a frequent guest at a summer barbecue, tend to be made with added sugars and in some cases even artificial ingredients; one 1/2 cup serving generally packs 140 calories, 12 grams of sugar (that’s 3 teaspoons!), and 550 mg sodium.

Healthy Beans for the BBQ: Opt for fresh roasted or canned low-sodium (in a BPA-free can) beans such as garbanzos, kidneys, black beans or any of your favorites. If they’re canned be sure to rinse before use to remove any extra sodium. Make this vegan Three-Bean Salad or just mix with your favorite fresh vegetables, herbs and spices for a delicious and healthy summer bean salad; beans are a good source of heart and digestion-healthy fiber and contain some plant-based protein too.

5. Chips:  Chips are a summertime favorite, you may eat them with your barbecue meal or as a salty snack on a summer day, but choose your chips wisely. Many chip varieties can not only contain unhealthy ingredients but a lot of extra calories as well. For example, corn tortilla chips may contain as much as 150 calories per 6 chips. Look for healthier chip varieties or swap chips for healthier crudite.

Healthy Chip Swaps: Swap out or half the portion of chips for some crudite (carrots, celery and other vegetables), as this can save mega calories and processed ingredients — it adds phytonutrients too. Look for lower sodium chip options that are free of hydrogenated oils (trans fats), or make your own. We have tons of healthy chip recipes, like Brussel Sprout Chips and Kale Chips.

6. Salad Dressing: Summer salads are tasty and refreshing, but be weary of the dressing. Salad dressings can be a sneaky way to add loads of unhealthy ingredients and calories; particularly in mayonnaise-based recipes like in Caesar, French, or Ranch dressings. Two tablespoons of Ranch dressing contains 140 calories, which although not too much more than plain olive oil, contains less heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and contains more saturated fats and processed ingredients. Caesar can be loaded with unhealthy ingredients, extra calories and extra fat; one serving contains about 180 calories, 500 mg sodium, and about 16 grams of fat.

Healthy salad dressings: Although the caloric content may not be too dissimilar from a more basic (and healthier) olive oil and vinegar (or lemon) dressing, the composition of the calories is drastically different. For example, olive oil contains a host of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that are missing out of processed salad dressings like those mentioned above. To keep it simple make a basic olive oil/lemon or vinegar dressing and add your favorite herbs that also contain a good variety of phytonutrients, or make this Honey Sesame Salad Dressing.

7. Summer desserts:  Ice cream cakes, fudge-sickles, cookies (the usual dessert you see) all contain extra calories, sugar and fat that over time can contribute to weight gain and overall may contribute to poor health. For example, one serving of ice cream cake contains about 450 calories, 26 grams of fat and about 35 grams of sugar (that’s almost 9 teaspoons of sugar).

Healthier summer desserts: Picking lower fat ice cream varieties, like homemade banana ice cream, or making your own healthy smart sweets. We have tons for you to chose from like the No-Bake Peanut Butter Cups, Raw Macaroons, or a Raw Lemon Cheesecake.

8. Sweet summer beverages: Sweet teas, punches, and other summer mixed beverages are sweet and tasty, but are often loaded with extra sugar and other processed chemicals. Beverages such as no-calorie sweeter-based powders that mix into drinks are loaded with chemicals that are heavily processed and ones that we should aim to avoid for overall health. Just 1 cup (8 oz) of punch contains between 80-150 calories depending on brand purchased, and may contain upwards of 30 grams of sugar (that’s 7.5 teaspoons of sugar!).

Healthy swaps for summer beverages: Keep it simple, water is always the best summer beverage; but if you want to mix it up you can make naturally infused and delicious water by soaking your favorite fresh fruit or vegetables in water and let the flavor infuse in. You may also want to try making home-made iced tea (sans sweetener) by brewing different types of tea and then cooling them on ice. Or course, make your favorite juice.



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Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Isabel is a Registered Dietitian, wellness expert and fitness coach. Isabel has her own nutrition and wellness practice based in New York City, Isabel Smith Nutrition, but she works with clients and corporations both nationwide and worldwide in a variety of areas including skin health, weight loss, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, sports nutrition, general wellness and more. As a Guided Reboot coach, Isabel has helped hundreds juice their way to better health. When she isn’t helping clients achieve optimal nutrition and wellness, she can be found trying and creating new juices and making other healthy recipes, running, cooking, spinning, practicing yoga, and enjoying time with her two Yorkshire terriers. Isabel is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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