In summertime, the livin' is easy, but so is access to seasonal foods that tempt you off your summer diet. Who can resist a heaping bowl of Aunt Maude's potato salad at the family reunion? Or a chilled margarita, poolside? As your favorite ice cream shop beckons, your summer weight -- and resistance -- may waver.
What harm could a little warm-weather indulgence do?
In moderation, not much, say nutrition experts. But beware: some of the summertime food you might pass off as harmless packs a bigger calorie and fat punch than you might imagine. A little bowl of cole slaw, for instance, packs 21 grams of fat, about a third of most people's daily limit.
If you want to maintain your summer weight -- or at least not waddle into fall -- turn to substitutes or slim down the treat you desire, at least occasionally. Here, nutrition experts tell WebMD how to watch for five summer diet blunders, along with suggestions on how to lighten up.
Summer Diet Blunder 1: Summertime Salads
What's summer - or a picnic - without potato salad? After all, potato is a vegetable, right? Well, yes. But then, there's the mayonnaise, which a lot of potato salads are swimming in, says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. And depending on how heavy-handed the salad maker is with the mayo, the fat can more than cancel out the benefits of eating the vegetable.
"Salads made with mayonnaise are usually loaded with calories," she says. Not to mention grams of fat - often so high that fat accounts for more than half the total calories. It's also difficult to estimate calories and fat in your portion, because recipes vary so much, Sandon says.
Summer Diet Fix
If you're trying to limit your fat to 30% of calories on a 2,000-calorie a day diet -- a typical, healthy goal from the USDA -- your limit would be 65 grams of fat a day. So make those salads yourself. Slash calories and fat by using reduced-fat mayo, Sandon suggests.
For example, homemade potato salad with regular mayo has more than 20 grams of fat and 350 calories per cup. Make it with low-fat mayo and you can cut the calories and fat in half. Lower-fat mayo has about 5 grams of fat per tablespoon, while the regular stuff tops out at 11 grams of fat per tablespoon.
If you buy your potato salad on the go, keep in mind that recipes vary widely at different fast-food restaurants. At Kentucky Fried Chicken, a 4.5-oz. serving has 9 grams of fat and 180 calories. Blimpie's version - a 4.9-oz. serving - has double the fat, at 19 grams of fat and 140 calories.
Cole slaw is another staple that sounds like a summer diet food. After all, isn't cabbage one of those "free foods," with so few calories they aren't worth thinking about? True, a cup of raw chopped cabbage has a mere 21 calories and a trace of fat - but then comes the mayo.
Cole slaw, like potato salad, can vary wildly in the amount of fat it contains, says Cathy Nonas, RD, director of the obesity and diabetes program at North General Hospital in New York City. At Chick-Fil-A restaurants, a 4.5-oz. serving of slaw carries 260 calories, with a whopping 21 grams of fat. At Boston Market, the same serving of cole slaw carries a more modest 170 calories with 9 grams of fat.
Advice? Indulge in the mayo-laced salads of summer only occasionally, if you love them. "Have the potato salad," Nonas says, "but understand it isn't a cheap date."
Summer Diet Blunder 2: Festive Drinks
Poolside, or at happy hour, a party drink such as a giant margarita can seem like a fine way to celebrate summer. It's the sociable thing to do, right?
Beware, says Sandon. "That poolside, nice, frosty beverage could become a weight problem that could make you spill over your bikini," she says. A regular-sized margarita has about 170 calories. But that's for one that's barely 3 ounces. The giant margaritas, especially those designed to be shared by two or three people, can spell trouble, Sandon says.
Summer Diet Fix
"If you are going to put in a few laps at the pool, maybe you can have that margarita," Sandon says. "But most people I see at the pool aren't doing a lot of swimming." The rationalization goes like this: "People think they are sitting in the sun, and so they need fluid," Sandon says. "But alcohol is not a good way to hydrate," she says. It actually dehydrates you. If you want an alcoholic drink, "going with a glass of wine might be a better bet," she says. A 3.5-oz. glass of wine is about 80 calories. A 12-oz. beer has about 117 calories.
And if it's the festive flair of the drink -- like the umbrellas topping off tropical summer drinks -- you can customize a lower-cal option, Sandon says. "They might put an umbrella in your beer if you ask them," she says. Other options: ask for lemon-flavored water with club soda for some pizzazz, Sandon says. Or alternate an alcoholic drink with plain water or a non-alcoholic beverage.
Start with a "virgin" drink, Nonas agrees, such as a Virgin Bloody Mary, to reduce calories. It doesn't always work, she concedes. "A margarita doesn't work without the liquor."
Summer Diet Blunder 3: Burgers and Hot Dogs
Some baseball fans can't watch a game without a traditional hot dog. But a Dodger dog, a long-time tradition at Los Angeles Dodger games, packs 240 calories and 22 grams of fat - and that's just the dog, without the bun, ketchup, or other add-ons. Of the 240 calories, 200 of them are from fat. And at backyard barbecues, cheeseburgers often play a starring role. Figure 360 calories with the bun - and nearly 20 grams of fat.
Summer Diet Fix
To lighten up, consider a turkey frank on a roll, for about 190 calories and 10 grams of fat. Or a veggie burger and bun, for about 180 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. Two other healthy options include a chicken breast without the skin, or grilled fish such as grilled salmon.
And at the baseball park, says Sandon, if you find yourself considering the burger or hot dog fare: "Health-wise, you are probably better off with peanuts," Sandon says. They aren't low-calorie, she says, but at least peanuts have heart-healthy fat.
Summer Diet Blunder 4: Frothy Coffee Drinks
Those frosty coffee drinks like frappuccinos seem like a great summertime treat, right? After all, most of us need our caffeine fix.
Brace yourself. "They can run 300 to 700 calories," says Sandon. Especially if you believe that the bigger the coffee, the better. Case in point: Starbucks Orange Mocha Frappuccino Blended Coffee, promoted as a great way to start your summer day (especially when paired with reduced-fat Orange Crème Coffee Cake). But if you order their "Venti" size (24 oz), it's 520 calories and 16 grams of fat. Add another 320 calories and 8 grams of fat if you succumb to the coffee cake.
Summer Diet Fix
But there are tasty, lower-calorie, and lower-fat -- or even nonfat -- alternatives, Sandon says. Starbucks points those conscious of summer diets to other choices. A 16-oz. Starbucks latte made with nonfat milk delivers no fat and just 160 calories. At any coffee house, Sandon says, you can order a latte with skim or nonfat milk.
Summer Diet Blunder 5: Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt
It's 95 degrees in the shade, and you need ice cream now. But not just any ice cream will do. You're thinking a 4-oz scoop of Baskin-Robbins Baseball Nut ice cream. That'll hit it out of the park, with 270 calories and 14 grams of fat.
Summer Diet Fix
"You have to pick nonfat or low-fat yogurt to get any kind of decent calorie savings over ice cream," Sandon says. Switch to a 4-oz scoop of vanilla nonfat yogurt - though probably not as much fun - for 150 calories with 0 grams fat. Another option: "Try a fruit-flavored frozen treat," Sandon says. A fruit-flavored treat on a stick, she says, has about 60 calories.
If you simply must have real ice cream, turn to the more virtuous - but still tasty - varieties, says Elaine Magee, RD, MPH, a nutrition expert for WebMD. The good news is that you can now find almost any flavor you might desire in a low-fat version. And the better news: Many of these 'light' ice cream brands are great-tasting.
Some of the newer slow-churned ice creams are particularly tasty, she says, without an overdose of fat. Dreyers and other companies claim their new churning technologies make ice cream taste like it has more fat than it does. The Double Fudge Brownie by Dreyer's (called Edy's on the East Coast) has 120 calories and 4 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving, Magee says.
For ice cream shoppers, read the labels, since not all light varieties are created equal. Magee suggests going by this guideline: a 1/2 cup serving should have no more than 4 grams of fat, 120 calories, and 15 grams of sugar.