Delicious and Healthy Summer Fare

Summer is almost here and we are all firing up the barbecues and stocking the fridge with fast, easy foods. I am sure that much of this will be attempts at healthy eating; fresh fruits and special cuts of meat (for the grill). But I want to make some suggestions as to how to power up your summer fare and make it healthier without taking away from the taste or the ease of access. In fact, some of these tips will make you jump for joy. While preserving taste and type of great summer fare, I want you to consider mixing certain foods together in order to get the best out of what you eat. Wait until you see what I’m talking about.

Summer is the time for salads. Everyone is making salads at the barbecues, at the parties, at the picnics. What is a barbecue without a salad? And summer just screams for salad because it is eaten cold when it is steaming hot outside. Now, I bet you’re wolfing down those salads with low fat dressings because you think they are healthier and will help keep your weight down. I cannot vouch for how true either of these beliefs are but I can say that I think they taste horrible. I have remained committed to the full fat version, especially after my bout with the Atkins diet a few years back where you are encouraged to wolf down fat and blue cheese dressing is a staple. Now, it has been discovered that the fat in salad dressings allows you to absorb the nutrients from the salad! In a study where some people ate salad with low fat and no fat dressings and others ate full fat, the researchers found that the fat-free eaters absorbed almost no carotenoids from their salads! The reduced-fat eaters got some nutrients, but it was the full-fat eaters who absorbed the most lycopene and alpha- and beta-carotene from their food. I find this amazing and, of course, a great excuse to keep wolfing down my full fat dressings. But for those of you who are truly afraid of the fat for health reasons like heart disease or are serious about losing weight and don’t want the calories, use less or replace it with other fatty items like cheese, avocado or bacon. Yes, I know this will still add calories… so it’s getting the nutrition or getting skinny. Your choice!

Also, summer time is the time for fast breakfasts. In the winter, we take more time at this meal and it’s not because the snow doesn’t slow us down. It’s because we make all sorts of plans in the summer and dash off early to get a haircut before work or to squeeze in a stop at the gym. What’s more, we don’t eat our oatmeal because it’s hot outside. So what happens here? We start eating bagels, donuts and pastries as our push off in the morning. Mix that with coffee, cold or hot, and we spend most of the day jittering and feeling hungry. My advice: dump the white bread and sugar. Dump the bagels, the donuts, the pastries, the white toast. White toast and jelly hasn’t got an ounce of nutritional value and all it does is drive your pancreas crazy. This is a recipe for early onset diabetes if you ever see one. So what to do? No time for making something healthy?  Well, try whole grain breads. Yes, this alone is enough of a change in your diet to create nutritional vigor. To put an end to the blood sugar crash, the mid morning jitters, the starving and stuffing lunch event, try eating something like wheat toast with eggs. Instead of heaping the eggs on a bagel, just switch to a whole grain or wheat bread. It’s that simple. This takes the place of the value of the oatmeal we eat in winter without disrupting our summer routines. If you don’t like whole grain or wheat breads or don’t eat breads in the morning, then try some fruit with those eggs. Fruit with pancakes or bagels will not have the same value. A healthful carb, such as whole-grain toast or fruit, paired with a protein such as eggs or lean bacon is ideal. Adding the protein to the meal will help to slow the absorption of glucose, which will help keep you fuller longer while the fruit or whole grains will provide fiber and more nutrition as well.

If you’re like me, you cannot wait for the barbecue season. Our family loves to bbq, gathering around, drinking our favorite beverages and lingering over a big spread together. Yes, even me; although I am vegetarian I love grilled onions, charred potatoes, cold salads and corn. Believe me, I get more than enough to eat! But if you are among those that eat the meat, like the rest of my family, introduce some herbs and spices to the mix. Oh my goodness, herbs like garlic, sage and oregano can be tossed into about anything and people will love it. But focus on the meat for nutritional as well as culinary reasons. Not long ago, science began to show that grilling meat over high heat produces carcinogens. I have been a little crazy about that ever since; taking care not to burn stuff too much and fussing over my father, who loves to char everything, even his toast. All I could imagine was dad falling ill with colon cancer. He already has heart disease so this was not a welcome fear. But now they are saying that marinating meat in herbs like rosemary, basil, marjoram and thyme can counter these effects. A Kansas State University study demonstrated that these herbs are rich in carnosic acid, carnosol, and rosmarinic acid, compounds that counteract the carcinogens created by the grilling. So rub on that thyme or add it to the marinade. I will be adding herbs to the garlic marinades this summer and trying to relax. Dad won’t stop stuffing charcoal with his meat but at least I can stop worrying about it.

One more thing. Summer time is ideal time for fruit. We all want to eat more fruit and to get our kids to eat more, too. But all too often the choice is popsicles or canned fruit, full of sugar and syrups and low on nutrition. Popsicles are nothing but flavoring with no nutritional value and the fruits in cans are cooked. Not good. So how do you toss some fresh fruit into the mix and have everybody eat it? Well, try chocolate! I’m serious here. Apples are the best choice for this, although I wouldn’t discount doing it with other fruits. Apples work best because they contain a particularly potent anti-inflammatory substance called quercetin, which has been shown to quell allergies as well as lower the risk of heart attack, cancer and other diseases. Apples, as well, are hard and crunchy and easy to handle. Now, consider that chocolate contains catechins, which have been proven to reduce the risk of artery hardening and cancer. Eaten together, quercetin and catechins can reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, which gives cardiovascular health a boost. So this is great news! Although it’s unlikely that you can put apples out with pieces of chocolate and expect everyone eat them together or even eat one of each. Most everybody will grab the chocolate and leave the apples. So try this. Melt chocolate and dip the apples in it, like you make caramel apples. Once the chocolate has dried to a dark, delicious coat on the juicy red apple, there is no stopping most folk from digging in. This is an easy make and can be kept in the fridge, on plates. Makes a great summer treat that is healthy to boot.

Enjoy!

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