Healthy Eating: Eat this, not that

Dropping a few pounds may not be as hard as it seems; follow these top five food swaps for some summertime weight loss.

Watermelons 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Watermelons 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Summer is fully underway – and what does that mean for most of us, shorts, tank tops and of course bathing suits! It also means, snack time at the pool, a refreshing drink at the beach, or an icy cocktail at night. But while these summertime treats may tickle your taste buds, are they wreaking havoc on your waistline? Probably yes! Between the popsicles, the smoothies, the margaritas and the pina coladas, you could be adding a few hundred calories to your daily diet without even realizing it. So to cut down on extra calories, as well as boosting your consumption of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants this bathing suit season, here are five of the top summertime food swaps:
1. A  burst of coolness at the beach
What better way to cool off at the beach or pool than with an icy popsicle? While this summer time favorite will certainly bring your body temperate down, and boost energy levels, have you ever wondered what makes this icy treat simply irresistible in the heat? Well there is water, and oh sugar, sugar and more sugar! While they may be lower in calories than other icy treats, such as ice cream, most popsicles contain few vitamins, minerals or any nutritionally beneficial substance whatsoever – in short it is the definition of empty calories. So instead of a popsicle, eat this: a slice of Watermelon! With only 46 calories per cup, watermelon is over 90 percent water, making it an excellent way to to re-hydrate and re-energize on a sizzling hot day.
Moreover, unlike the popsicle, watermelon is loaded with vitamin C - a vitamin that is essential for proper growth and development, the immune system, and also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. In addition, like many red/pink fruits, the watermelon is rich in lycopene - a potent antioxidant that neutralizes harmful free radicals that can cause a great deal of damage throughout the body including oxidizing cholesterol, which causes cholesterol to stick to the arterial wall, potentially leading to heart attacks and strokes. Lycopene helps to prevent the oxidization of cholesterol, thus helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also shown that this antioxidant can help prevent many different types of cancers, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer and most importantly for summer, skin cancer.  Also unlike popsicles, which melt away under the sun, don’t worry if your watermelon is left out in the heat all day, as the warm temperature actually increases the lycopene content – making it an even healthier treat.
2. An energy booster
Going for a long run or bike ride on a scorching hot day? For many people, this will mean stocking up on the sport drinks. And why not since these drinks supposedly rehydrate, replenish lost electrolytes and boost energy levels. While sport beverages do contain potassium and sodium – two minerals needed to maintain proper fluid balance in the body – they are also extremely high in sugar. So the question is, are these beverages doing more harm than good? Most health experts have agreed that while sports beverage’s electrolytes content is beneficial to professional athletes and marathoners, it has little value to the average user. Moreover, some studies also found that consuming sport drinks on a regular basis can affect tooth enamel, dentin (the dental tissue under enamel that determines the size and shape of teeth) as well as cause significant staining. So besides good old H2O, what is another alternative? Coconut water!
Recent studies have shown that coconut water offers some pretty surprising health benefits, from its antibacterial and antiviral properties, to aiding with the absorption of other nutrients. However, what is even more surprising are the numerous health benefits lurking inside coconut water. Apart from being low in calories (only 46 calories per serving) and sugar (only 6grams per serving compared to most commercial sport drinks that have 14-30grams), coconut water is considered an isotonic beverage. What does this mean? In short, coconut water contains the same electrolyte balance as human blood, making it the perfect way to replenish lost electrolytes this sizzling season.
3. A pool side treat
Lounging by a hotel pool all day? What better way to relax and fully enjoy your summer vacation than by ordering yourself a fruity smoothie? And what can really be so bad? Isn’t it basically yogurt and fruit blended together? Unfortunately, no. The operative word here is basically. Disproportionately large serving sizes, combined with added sugar, juices and sometimes even ice cream, or sherbet, makes this summer drink one of the most misleading “health food” culprits.
While some can be made with low-fat yogurt and with fresh fruit, the majority sadly are not, and the combination of these added ingredients can send the calorie content flying well above the 500 line. Moreover, as smoothies are considered a “drink” not a “food”, many of us forget to even count them in our daily calories. So unless you are making your own, eat this: a bowl of low-fat yogurt with some fresh berries! The yogurt will provide you with protein and calcium as well as other essential minerals, such as potassium and phosphorus while the fresh berries will load you up with vitamins and antioxidants – all things that will keep you healthy to fully enjoy this heated season. Try to mix and match different color berries (i.e blues and reds) to maximize your intake of different diseases-fighting nutrients.
4. A morning pick me up
Just because summer is here doesn’t mean that most of us still do not need our morning cup (or two) of coffee to function properly. However, this does mean that some of us begin to switch our morning latte, cappuccino or even espresso to a refreshing ice coffee. Now real ice coffee – i.e coffee, milk, and ice – is not that bad for you (especially if you order low fat milk, and do not overdue the sugar). Unfortunately, most of  us do not order this form of the drink. Instead, it is Aroma’s ice coffee (granita) , Starbuck’s mocha frappucino or maybe Coffee Bean’s ice blend -  all of which easily pass the 200 and 300 calorie line, with some reaching well into the 400 and even 500 range. On top of the added calories and fat, most of these drinks contain very little coffee – instead they are loaded with sugar, which may send blood glucose levels soaring quickly, but a few hours later, they will come crashing down – negating the “wake me up” affect that you were hoping to achieve with the coffee. So what is a better alternative? Regular coffee.
On a short term basis, a cup of coffee (or a shot of espresso) a day has been shown to enhance short-term memory performance, while on a long term basis studies have shown that regular black coffee may help to reduce the risk of degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's and Dementia. Now if milk is needed, try to use low fat milk as, contrary to the health food myth, low fat milk products actually contain more calcium than their full-fat counterparts.
5. An evening delight
From the Long Island ice tea, to a frozen margarita or a pina colada, nothing  spells “summer night” more than a cool cocktail, right? Now while one or two cocktails may have little effect on your brain, they may have a slightly bigger effect on your hips. A one ounce serving of 80-proof alcohol contains 90 calories; however, drinking a cocktail is not the same as knocking back a shot of vodka, tequila or rum. The sugar laden sodas, the colorful syrups, and the flavorful creams can send the calorie, fat and sugar content through the roof, giving your beach time special as many calories as a bowl of ice cream, a giant piece of cake and even a big mac!
For instance, the Long Island ice tea contains 780 calories, while a frozen margarita can set you back a whopping 850 calories. And it’s not just the calories you need to fear – the sugar content in some of these drinks is through the roof. For instance, the ultimate beach time treat – the pina colada – has 625 calories and 75 grams of sugar! If you enjoy cocktails on a regular basis, try and drink this: low sugar cocktails.
While this may sound simple enough, it is easier said than done as many of the top cocktail recipes call for ingredients that do not have low sugar substitutes. The easiest alternative is to opt for light beers or a reasonable glass of wine. However, if a cocktail is a must, than go for ones with low-cal or calorie-free mixers (such as diet sprite or coke zero) and stay clear of cocktails that mix more than one kind of alcohol (which doubles the calories right from the start).