Summer is here, and I can already hear the ice cream truck rolling down the street. With treats like ice cream sandwiches, grilled hot dogs, and frozen margaritas calling our names, it can feel impossible to eat healthy. I’m always on the lookout for ways to indulge in seasonal treats without overdoing it. That’s why I asked some of the leading dietitians and health experts what they’re eating this summer to stay satisfied and fit.
Summer is all about easy, no-bake dishes, so fresh fruits and vegetables are high on the list. “Although not a seasonal summer food, I love munching on jicama slices on hot days,” Meg Hagar, an author, registered dietitian, and the founder of No Diet Nutrition, told me.
“It’s cool, watery, and crisp to bite into, and a great source of fiber and micronutrients such as folate and vitamin C! It’s also low in sugar and fat.” Try dipping the slices in salsa or enjoying them on their own.
If you’re an ice cream junkie like me, try keeping some grapes in your freezer at all times. They’re the perfect sweet and frozen snack to satisfy your sweet tooth.
“If jicama is not available, another one of my favorite summer treats is frozen grapes,” shared Hagar. “Packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, frozen grapes are a cooling snack to munch on during hot summer days!”
It wouldn’t be summer without a big bowl of fresh berries in the refrigerator. “Berries are among the highest fiber fruits, and many Americans struggle to get enough fiber in their diets. They’re also packed with antioxidants and boast a high water content, which can help you feel refreshed on hot, humid days,” Dietitian Cara Harbstreet of Street Smart Nutrition told me.
“Try adding a few extra berries to your morning smoothie, layer into a yogurt parfait, or freeze for a simple addition to infused water. You can also get creative with berries by muddling them with fresh herbs for cocktails or mocktails or adding to a compote or marinade for grilled meats.”
Stock up at your local farmers market and start getting creative.
Another summer staple we can’t get enough of is fresh watermelon slices. You can enjoy them fresh or freeze them for a healthy popsicle.
“Watermelon is 92 percent water, which means it is low-calorie and hydrating. Fluids can hydrate you on a hot day, but so can water-rich foods like watermelon,” Registered Dietitian Christen Cooper told me.
Not only are they hydrating, but watermelons pack a vitamin punch as well. “Watermelons contain Vitamins A, B, and C. These vitamins are essential for many functions, including proper immune system function, skin health, and increased metabolism,” Sarah Frey, the founder of Frey Farms and Tsamma Watermelon Juice, told me. “They also have antioxidant properties to remove harmful free radicals. Watermelons contain four times the amount of lycopene of a tomato, a powerful antioxidant.”
You don’t only have to stick to fruit all summer. Even dietitians want to indulge sometimes! “There is nothing like a frosty margarita or ice cold beer on a hot day, but the fastest way to too many calories is through sugar-laden alcoholic drinks,” Jennifer Gibson, the head of Nutrition and Coaching at Vida Health, told me.
“Skip the sweet drinks such as margaritas, blended beverages, or mojitos, and go for a drink mixed with soda water instead. Save your beverages for optimal times, adding limits on your drinking hours, and avoid starting early in the day.”
If you do indulge in a little day drinking, we won’t judge you. Just be sure to drink plenty of water as well.
A great way to take advantage of warm summer days is to prepare meals and snacks over the weekend. This way you’ll be able to grab your healthy dishes and go.
“The last thing I want to do on hot summer days is cook, so my go-to summer dish is an easy chickpea salad,” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and the owner of Cultivate Healthy, Andrea Goergen, told me. “Just mix a can of chickpeas with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions, squeeze some lemon juice on top or use a little balsamic vinaigrette, and that’s it!”
Not only is this salad delicious and easy, it’s loaded with nutrients for your bikini bod. “This crisp, fresh salad is low in fat and calories, and loaded with protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium,” explained Goergen. “Add avocado for a creamier version that boosts the vitamin C and fiber with a delicious dose of healthy fat.”
If you’d like to do away with your oven all together, start falling in love with protein shakes. They’re cool, quick, and easy.
“My favorite summer food is waking up and making a nice cold protein smoothie,” Dietitian and the founder of Macrobalanced Gabriella Vetere told me. “When it gets too hot in the summer, I cannot be bothered with hot food, so I like to make a nutritious and healthy protein smoothie with protein powder to build lean muscle, veggie and fruit to boost vitamin consumption, and healthy fats such as chia seeds, nut butter, and avocado to provide healthy hair and skin during a time where we might abuse them with sun.”
Not sure where to start? Vetere shared her recipe for a carrot cake protein smoothie to win over any skeptics.
If you like to take your workout outside, it’s especially important to stay hydrated this summer. Water is great, but if you need something more, try skipping the sugary sports drinks and having a coconut water instead.
“When the temperature goes up, coconut water is super hydrating and acts like a natural Gatorade,” Certified Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, and Health Coach Jamie Logie told me. “It’s full of electrolytes which you need to replenish if you’ve been active and sweating, and it’s a great natural thirst quencher.”
Green leafy vegetables
In the summer, our bodies usually crave fresh fruits and vegetables, so take advantage of this time when it’s a little easier to eat healthy.
“In the hot summer months, you’re not always as hungry and usually not for very dense or starchy foods, which can make you feel run down and sluggish,” said Logie. “This is a good time to eat nutrient-dense, low-calorie, but very filling greens. They provide a lot of volume and satiety without that overabundance of calories and are full of vitamin, mineral, phytonutrients, and fiber.” Mix up a big salad or toss some leafy greens in your morning smoothie.
If you are a fan of the grill this time of year, try swapping out your burgers and hot dogs for a salmon fillet.
“Sockeye salmon is caught by fishermen during the summer months, mainly in Alaskan waters. Sockeye salmon, as other salmons, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are extremely beneficial to arterial health and function,” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and the owner of B Nutrition and Wellness Gisela Bouvier told me.
“A number of studies also consistently prove that the fish oils in salmon can protect brain health and reduce the risk of heart disease. It is also rich in B vitamins, potassium, and selenium, which helps protect bone health and reduce the risk of cancer.”
Spice up your summer salads at the next cookout and feature this beautiful and nutrient-packed veggie. “Beets are a delicious root and starchy vegetable. They are low in calories and rich in many nutrients, including folate and manganese,” Bouvier told me.
“They are very beneficial to athletes who train during the summer months. The nitrates in beets may help to enhance athletic performance by improving the use of oxygen until point of exhaustion.” Sounds like a great reason to toss together a beet salad after your next summer workout.
Summer is a great time to start trying more seafood. “When thinking about healthy choices for summer, I can’t help but recommend shrimp. For starters, it’s delicious! Plus, it’s incredibly versatile,” Rima Kleiner, a food blogger and dietitian, told me.
“Serve shrimp skewers as a mess-free backyard barbecue meal, toss grilled shrimp atop a salad for a leafy green option, or mix it in with whole wheat pasta for a filling side dish. A three-ounce serving of shrimp, which is about four large shrimp, is only 85 calories and delivers almost 20 grams of protein.”
In addition to watermelon, cucumbers are also very hydrating while providing tons of nutrients. “My favorite food for the summer is persian cucumbers. They are crispy, hydrating, and refreshing. I usually keep them in the fridge or pack them in a cooler for traveling or the beach,” Registered Dietitian Pegah Jalali told me.
“Cucumbers have a lot of water and like all veggies contain fiber, which most of us do not get enough of. Cucumbers contain potassium, which is an electrolyte that we lose in our sweat along with sodium.” Enjoy them on their own or sprinkle with sea salt and lemon juice for a refreshing snack.
It just wouldn’t be summer without a big bowl of guacamole at the barbecue. Avocados are a perfect snack this time of year.
“Avocados are an awesome source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and contain a wide variety of additional nutrients like potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate,” Alyssa Sorenson, the lead dietitian at Profile by Sanford, told me. “They are also high in antioxidants and are incredibly delicious on top of grilled meats and salads!”
It’s hard to find a nutritionist who doesn’t love avocados. “These guys are actually a fruit and great for balancing fat, and are therefore great for weight loss,” said Lola Berry, a nutritionist and author. “They’re also brilliant for anti-aging and considered to be a beauty superfood.” Yes, please!
One of my favorite summer dishes is zucchini pasta. This hydrating veggie is just so versatile.
“Zucchini is a food that hydrates and is high in antioxidants. It can be quickly spiralized into ‘noodles,’ making it a great no-cook dinner option, and it’s way lower in carbs and calories than pasta, so you can enjoy an overflowing plate,” said Dietitian and Health Advisor Jennifer Dunn.
“The particular starches and fibers in this vegetable have also been linked to better regulation of blood sugar and protection against diabetes!” Toss that zucchini with a little olive oil and salt for a great summer salad.
Cherries are a great summer snack because they’re quick and incredibly healthy. “Cherries are high in antioxidants that protect the body from harmful substances and have anti-inflammatory properties to help ease side effects from arthritis, gout, and other inflammatory diseases,” Dietitian Michelle Caravella told me. “They’re also the ultimate food to snack on at the beach.” So toss them in your picnic basket and go!
Banana “ice cream”
Tossing a few frozen bananas in the blender transforms them from boring fruit to a creamy and satisfying dessert. “This faux ice cream is naturally a good source of fiber and an excellent source of potassium to help replenish electrolytes after a sweaty summer day,” said Caravella. “It’s simple and quick to whip up as a cool dessert or midday snack.”
To make, just slice and freeze two bananas, then toss them in the blender or food processor with a drizzle of nut butter and cinnamon.
Another great ice cream substitute in the summer is low-fat yogurt. “Low fat or fat-free yogurt naturally contains both high-quality carbohydrates and protein, making it an excellent food for controlling hunger,” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating Rene Ficek told me.
“Additionally, yogurt contains good-for-you bacteria. These are basically beneficial bugs that live in your digestive tract that help support immunity.” It’s super easy to toss in some frozen berries for a fun summer snack.
Fresh tomatoes are a summer treat, but don’t forget about their little sisters. “I love tomatoes every season, but there’s something fun about incorporating cherry tomatoes to my summery dishes,” Registered Dietitian Valerie Agyeman told me.
“Apart from the vibrant colors they come in like yellow and green, they have nutritional benefits like antioxidants to help prevent free radicals from damaging the cells in your body.”
There is nothing like a fresh peach. We have to wait all year, but it’s worth it. Not only are they juicy and delicious, they’re really good for us too.
“For an extra kick of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, peaches always taste great in greek yogurt or low fat vanilla ice cream during these blazing hot days,” said Agyeman. “Throw some mint on for a refreshing taste to help you stay cool.”
Corn on the cob
A favorite at state fairs and barbecues, corn on the cob is the summer treat we all remember from childhood. “This has been a favorite summertime treat since I was a kid and best when fresh off the barbecue,” Board Certified Nutritional Consultant and the co-founder of Project Juice Marra St. Clair told me. “Fresh corn is high in fiber and antioxidants, as well as vitamin B and other vitamins and minerals.”
Sauerkraut has been gaining popularity for its gut-healing properties, so don’t forget it for your next barbecue. It also adds lots of flavor to your grilled dishes.
“So amazing on a ton of wonderful, quintessentially summer foods, sauerkraut is a boon for gut health. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is high in fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and B,” St. Clair told me. “It is a great source of iron and has protein in it as well. It is relatively easy to make at home, and there are a ton of great options that can simply be purchased from the grocery store.”
Summer is this magical time when all of these amazing foods are fresh, so take advantage! Foods like tomatoes and peaches are just not worth it in the winter, so load up now.
“Visit farmers markets and food stands to add variety to your diet,” the director of Dietetic Internship at the University of New Haven Georgia Chavent told me. “Supporting local farms is not only good for the environment with reduced transportation and packaging costs, but also supports the local community and preserves healthy soil which few people realize will also reduce greenhouse gases!”
Fresh foods are also better for our bodies. “Nutrients are most available to our bodies when the food is naturally ripened close to home, so venture out and try something new,” explained Chavent.
Now that we’ve made it through the long winter, it’s time to give our ovens and slow cookers a break and opt for light, fresh foods.
“Robust, comforting meals are a staple in the cold, dark winter months, but give your diet a refreshing overhaul by opting for less cooked foods and more color,” Gibson told me. “Load your plate with seasonal fruits and veggies and lighter proteins such as fish or beans.”
Summer days can fly by when you’re visiting friends, taking the kids to the pool, or traveling. While it’s fine to keep your meals light, make sure you’re eating enough.
“It’s easy to skip a meal when you are out in the heat, only to find yourself ravenous later in the day,” explained Gibson. “Keep your blood sugar even and your body on schedule by eating on a regular routine. If you feel too hot to eat, find a place that is cooler and grab a light bite to eat so you don’t end up packing in the calories later.”
Healthier food at barbecues
A great way to eat healthier this summer is to make small tweaks to the dishes you’re already eating. Headed to a friend’s barbecue this weekend? Offer to make a side dish that’s light and fit.
“Typical barbecue fare comes packed with calories and fat. Lighten it up by grilling more veggies, kabobs, fish, and shellfish,” recommended Gibson. “Keep your side dishes to more fruit and vegetable-based options, such as a cucumber or caprese salad, and keep away from the more traditional potato or macaroni salads.”
Listen to your body
While there are plenty of options for healthy summer foods out there, always do what is right for you. “There’s no diet food that’s right for everyone, so it’s important to follow a healthful eating plan that’s packed with tasty foods and that keeps your unique lifestyle in mind,” said Tina Haupert, a Precision Nutrition Coach, personal trainer, and food and fitness blogger. “Summer is a further reminder that it’s important to start making smart food choices today and every day.”