grilled sausages
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Smart Food Choices for Summer

Ahhh, it's summer: barbecues, cocktails at the pool, baseball games, and lots of fried chicken, ribs, potato salad, ice cream, hot dogs, and beer. The living may be easy, but you need to know about a few shocking calorie traps and better choices at a backyard barbecue or beach boardwalk.

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Steak on the grill
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High-Fat Meats on the Barbecue

The bad news: barbecue can sabotage your waistline. A 20 ounce T-bone steak can weigh in at 1,540 calories and 124 g fat.  An average cheeseburger has 750 calories and 45 grams of fat. What about pork or beef ribs? They come from the fattiest part of the animal. The good news: You can go lean with cuts like pork tenderloin, skinless chicken breast, and lean ground beef.

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Man putting mustard on hotdog
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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Hot dogs and sausages are summer treats for many of us, but you might save them for baseball games. It’s not just about fat or calories -- after all, you can choose low-fat versions. Most hot dogs, bratwurst, and other sausages are very high in sodium. Typical nutrition scores include:

  • Hot dog:  280 calories, 15 g fat, 1,250 mg of sodium
  • Kielbasa (6-oz): 330 calories, 24 g fat, 1,590 mg sodium
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Macaroni and potato salad at picnic
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Mayonnaise-Based Salads

A small half-cup portion of typical potato salad has 180 calories and 12 grams of fat; the same amount of coleslaw has about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. To cut calories, try making your salads with light mayonnaise; or mix mayo with low-fat yogurt, light sour cream, or chicken stock. Or why not try a German-style potato salad, using more vinegar than oil? Then toss lots of veggies into any salad to increase the fiber and nutrients.

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Pina Colada
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Frozen Concoctions

Sweet, fruity alcoholic drinks (the kind often served with an umbrella) may go down easy, but the calories add up in a hurry. A piña colada can range from 245-490 calories, a daiquiri from 300-800 calories, and a Long Island iced tea can set you back 520 calories or more -- with much of it from sugar. Instead of high calorie drinks, try wine, a wine spritzer, or a mixed drink with seltzer and a splash of 100% fruit juice.

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Iced tea garnished with mint leaves
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Satisfying Thirst Quenchers

Staying hydrated is essential in summer, but those cold drinks can wreak havoc with your waistline. Be careful what you choose -- if you're drinking 12-ounce containers of sweet tea, sweetened soda, energy drinks, juice drinks, or beer, you're probably taking in about 150 calories a pop. Smoothies, milkshakes, and cold coffee concoctions can go much higher. Try water or light versions of your favorite thirst quenchers.

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bins of icecream
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Refreshing Frozen Treats

A cup of soft-serve ice cream can have 380 calories and 22 grams of fat. Make it a chocolate cookie dough milkshake concoction, and the calories soar to 720, with 28 grams of fat! You don’t need to give up frozen treats, just pass on the giant portions or high fat toppings. Look for frozen desserts like sherbet, fudge bars, fruit bars, or other treats under 150 calories per serving or fruit desserts like strawberry shortcake.

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Making funnel cakes
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Frighteningly Fattening Fair Food

Fairs and boardwalks serve up plenty of deep-fried diet disasters. From fried cheesecake (around 500 calories), fried macaroni and cheese (roughly 610 calories) to gigantic turkey legs (about 1,136 calories and 54 grams of fat), most eat-while-you-walk foods are a calorie overload. Skip the fried foods and instead choose cotton candy, caramel apples, or a simple grilled meat -- or share your treat with a friend.

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spinach salad topped with bacon
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Salad Toppers

Salads can be the perfect summer dinner: light, refreshing bowls of veggies and lean protein. But high-calorie toppers can push a salad from lean to fattening in a hurry. Fried chicken strips, bacon, cheese, creamy dressings, and croutons are among the worst offenders. Instead, top your greens with grilled chicken, strips of lean meat, or eggs, then pile on the veggies and sprinkle with a light dressing.

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Corn chips loaded with nacho cheese
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Mindless Munching on Snacks

A handful of any snack won't do much harm, but too much can sabotage your diet. One ounce of potato chips or cheese puffs is roughly 160 calories and 10 grams of fat. Cheese nachos can contain 692 calories and 38 grams fat. And a 10-cup box of movie theater popcorn can have 550 calories and 31 grams fat. Try snacking on fruits, veggies with light dip, or small portions of fat-free popcorn.

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Plate of fried chicken
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Finger-Licking Fried Chicken

A bucket of fried chicken is an easy way to feed a crowd, but it can wreak havoc on your waistline and arteries. So forgo fried chicken and toss boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill, instead. Marinades and spice rubs add flavor to these quick-cooking cuts of poultry. The nutritional differences are striking.

  • Skinless chicken breast (3.5 oz): 167 calories, 7 g fat
  • Breaded, fried chicken breast: 360 calories, 21 g fat
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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/19/2016 Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 19, 2016


(1)      iStockphoto
(2)      Ken MacDougall / iStockphoto
(3)      Jeff Chevrier / iStockphoto
(4)      Jack Puccio / iStockphoto
(5)      Ivan Mateev / iStockphoto
(6)      Olga Lyubkina / iStockphoto
(7)      Damir Spanic / iStockphoto
(8)      Brian McEntire / iStockphoto
(9)      Juan Monino / iStockphoto
(10)    Tim McAfee / iStockphoto
(11)    Michael Valdez / iStockphoto


Kerry Neville, MS, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association.

Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, chef and owner, Dining Cents; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.

USDA Nutrient Database


Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 19, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.