The 10 Most Fattening Foods of Summer

These summertime treats can wreak havoc on your diet.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Ahhh, the lazy days of summer -- backyard barbeques, cocktails at the pool, baseball games, and lots of fried chicken, ribs, ice cream, hot dogs, and beer. Summertime living may be easy, but if you're not careful, summer's fattening foods can really pack on the pounds.

Although most people are more active during the summer, it may not be enough to burn off all the extra calories from fattening summer treats. Maintaining a beach-ready body can be tough, especially if you overindulge in high-calorie meats, mayonnaise-laden salads, frozen desserts, and cold beverages.

And a typical summer pastime -- spending the day at the beach, the pool, or even in the backyard -- can lead to serious calorie overload, experts say.

"Spending the day at the lake, pool, or park leads to overeating, plain and simple, because we associate food and drink with having fun and do it for hours on end," says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, a personal chef and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The good news is that plenty of less fattening alternatives are available this time of year.

"Summer boasts an abundance of healthy and delicious foods that are not available year-round. Many are grown locally, and if you eat plenty of fresh produce, it can help keep your waistline trim all summer long," says Kerry Neville, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

So if you're headed for a day in the sun, Krieger says, pack those coolers with refreshing and low-calorie fruits and veggies, as well as plenty of water, and plan some activities so you don't just sit around and eat.

Summer's Most Fattening Foods

And what are the most fattening summer foods, the calorie-packed culprits you need to stay away from if you want to wear that bikini at the beach?
The truth, experts say, is that there are no "bad" foods. A few bites of even the most fattening food can fit into your diet. But there certainly are foods that are worse for us than others.

Here is a list of experts' top 10 picks for summer foods most likely to pile on the pounds. (When you check out their nutritional numbers, keep in mind that most adults need fewer than 2,000 calories, 65 grams of total fat, and 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day.)

1. High-Fat Meats on the Barbeque.

Giant steaks, ribs, and hamburgers can wreak havoc on your waistline. "Pork or beef ribs are the fattiest part of the animal to eat," Kreiger says. A 20-oz. T-bone steak can weigh in at 1,540 calories and 124 g fat.

Stay away from ribs and other cuts of meat with visible marbling (white streaks of fat) and fat around the edges. When possible, go for lean cuts like pork tenderloin or skinless chicken breast.

Also, avoid burgers made with high-fat ground beef. The average burger on a bun with cheese, lettuce, and tomato contains about 735 calories, 45 grams of fat and 1,000 mg of sodium. Use lean ground beef, and dress it up, Krieger suggests. "Lean ground meat tends to be dry and crumble, so add moistness to your burgers with apple sauce, tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce," she says.

And don't forget the side dishes, which help fill you up while providing nutrition. Toss some fruits, veggies, and corn on the cob on the grill to enjoy with a small portion of lean meat.

2. Hot dogs, Sausages, and Bratwurst.

Hot dogs and sausages are favorite summer treats for many Americans, but you might want to save them for baseball games. A typical hot dog has 280 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 1,250 mg of sodium, while 6 ounces of kielbasa has 330 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 1,590 mg sodium.

"Three-quarters of the calories from a bratwurst comes from fat, and even if you choose lower-fat turkey or soy dogs, they may be lower in fat and calories but they are all … high in sodium," Krieger says.

3. Mayonnaise-Based Salads.

What would a barbeque be without the coleslaw, or potato, or pasta salad? Probably a lot less fattening. A small half-cup portion of your 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, make your salads using light mayonnaise; a mixture of mayo and plain low-fat yogurt or light sour cream; or dilute your mayo with chicken stock. Or, try a German-style potato salad, using more vinegar than oil, Neville suggests. Toss lots of veggies into any salad to increase the fiber and nutrients.

4. Sweet Alcoholic Drinks.

Sweet, fruity alcoholic drinks (the kind often served with an umbrella) may go down easy, but the calories add up in a hurry. Pina coladas can range from 245-490 calories, a daiquiri can contain from 300-800 calories, a Long Island iced tea can set you back 520 calories or more -- and much of it is from sugar.
"Cocktails need to be counted and controlled because they are extra calories, they don't fill you up like food -- and remember the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends one drink per day for women and two for men," Neville says. "Think of these calorie-laden beverages as dessert and try to limit your portion size."
Instead of a sugary libation, try a wine spritzer, or a small serving of wine or sangria. Or mix one ounce of alcohol (like rum or vodka) with a splash of 100% fruit juice, a wedge of lime, and club soda for a refreshing and lower-calorie cocktail.

5. Thirst Quenchers.

When you're hot, you need to stay hydrated. But watch what you choose to quench your thirst. If you're drinking 12-ounce containers of beer, sweetened soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, or juice drinks, you're probably taking in about 150 calories a pop.

Smoothies, milkshakes, and cold coffee concoctions can go much higher. A Smoothie King 20 oz. vanilla shake has 738 calories, but if you choose the Slim-N-trim vanilla smoothie, you'll cut the calories to 227. Starbucks' 2% iced dulce de leche with whip packs 420 calories and 16 grams of fat in a 16 oz. serving, but you can indulge in a 20 oz. iced coffee with skim milk for only 110 calories.

To keep liquid calories in check, choose lite or diet versions of your favorite cold drink, or limit your portions of the regular type and satisfy your thirst with ice-cold water. You can jazz up water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea with a sprig of mint, wedge of citrus, or splash of 100% fruit juice.

6. Frozen Treats.

A cup of soft-serve ice cream can have 380 calories and 22 grams of fat. Make it a Dairy Queen chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard and the calories soar to 720, with 28 grams of fat! Baskin Robbins' two-scoop French vanilla and peanut butter 'n' chocolate on a sugar cone has 660 calories and 39 grams of fat. And Ben and Jerry's two-scoop Chunky Monkey in a waffle cone has 659 calories and 34 grams of fat.

Krieger suggests reading the labels on frozen desserts and choosing sorbet, sherbet, light ice cream, fudge bars, fruit bars, or other treats under 150 calories per serving. Another great option is fruit desserts like strawberry shortcake (1 cup strawberries, a slice of angel food cake, and 1 oz. low-fat whipped topping is nutritious and only 184 calories).

7. Fair, Carnival, and Boardwalk Food.

State fairs, carnivals, and seashore boardwalks serve some of the most fattening deep-fried diet disasters. From fried cheesecake (around 500 calories), fried macaroni and cheese (610 calories) to gigantic turkey legs (1,136 calories and 54 g fat), most eat-while-you-walk foods will give you calorie overload. Skip the fried foods and choose cotton candy, caramel apples, or a simple grilled meat.

8. Salad Toppers.

A salad can be the perfect no-cook summer dinner, light, refreshing, and a perfect way to get your produce and lean protein. But if you top your salad with high-calorie items, it can go from lean to fattening in a hurry.

High-calorie dressings, fried chicken strips, bacon, cheese, and croutons are among the biggest offenders. An ounce of croutons (142 calories, 6 grams fat), 3 strips of crumbled bacon (124 calories, 9 grams fat), half a cup of cheese (228 calories, 18 g fat), 3 crispy fried chicken strips (350 calories, 19 g fat) and a pouch of creamy Caesar dressing (260 calories, 26 g fat) and your salad weighs in at 1,129 calories and 78 g fat.

Instead, top your greens with grilled chicken, strips of lean meat, or eggs, then pile on the veggies -- from tomatoes to beans to jicama. Finish it off with a small amount of regular or low-fat cheese and a little light vinaigrette dressing for a light but filling summer salad.

9. Sweet or Salty Snacks.

A handful of any kind of snack won't do much harm, but when you have your hand stuck in the bag or box all day long; it can really sabotage your diet. Each ounce of potato chips or cheese puffs is roughly 160 calories and 10 grams of fat. Ballpark cheese nachos will set you back 692 calories (plus 38 g fat and 1,632 mg sodium); a box of Cracker Jacks packs 420 calories and 7 g fat; and a 10-cup box of movie theater popcorn has 550 calories, 31 g fat, and 972 mg sodium. Try snacking on fruits, raw veggies with lite dip, or small portions of fat-free popcorn instead.

10. 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), especially when you don't stop at one piece. So forgo the fried and toss boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill. A 3.5 oz. skinned chicken breast has only 167 calories and 7 grams of fat, compared to a KFC fried chicken breast with 360 calories and 21 g fat

"Marinate in a light dressing, use a dry spice rub, and top it with a fabulous fresh salsa and while it may not be crispy, it will be delicious and much better for you," Neville says.

Published June 17, 2008.

SOURCES: Kerry Neville, MS, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association. Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, chef and owner, Dining Cents; spokesperson, American Dietetic Association.

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