An array of healthy summer food, including grilled fruit salad, grilled corn on the cobb, and grilled squash and zucchini

Healthy food swaps for a guilt-free summer

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Summer is here and so, too, are the picnics, barbecues, and pool parties that challenge our best intentions to eat a healthy diet filled with nutrient-rich foods.

For many Americans, it just doesn’t feel like a summer soiree without a sizzling steak, a juicy burger, or a plump brat fresh off the grill. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The American diet typically consists of large portions, high fat, and high cholesterol foods, all of which may lead to chronic disease,” says Lauren McCarthy, MS, registered dietitian at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

She suggests some more mindful food alternatives with nutrient-dense ingredients that can be just as tasty as the usual summer fare.

“That will satisfy our cravings and help improve our health,” she says. “This can make eating healthy fun and not feel like a chore.”


Steak may be rich in protein and iron, but overindulging can increase your risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Picker a leaner cut and control your portion size by skewering steak on a shish kebab, or choose a healthier, leaner protein entirely, like seafood or poultry.

“Pairing lean meats with fresh veggies will make the perfect shish kabob,” McCarthy says.

A photograph of a steak sandwich with lettuce, cheese, and tomato


As delicious as grilled burgers are, they are high in fat content, which may contribute to raising bad cholesterol and the risk for heart disease.

McCarthy suggests swapping out ground beef for ground bison to make a grilled burger that contain more protein and about half the saturated fat. Plus, bison meat is filled with essential minerals, including zinc and B vitamins, which support our metabolism and overall health. Also, consider swapping out white hamburger buns for whole-grain instead.

“This will add fiber to help you stay full longer and keep the digestive process on track,” McCarthy says.

A photograph of two sausage bun with mustard, onions, relish on a wooden board


A summer cookout just isn’t the same without dogs on the grill, so we’d never tell you to toss them from the menu. Just be mindful of the ingredients inside your frankfurters.

“When picking a more processed meat, be sure to check the nutrition label ingredients, fat and sodium content,” McCarthy says.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day to help reduce the risk for heart disease.

Try choosing a lower sodium option such as turkey, chicken, or even a plant-based hot dog.

An adult and a child making a home made pizza, holding cheese over the pizza


Ordering a pizza on a hot summer night may be the easiest way to please everyone in the family, but it’s not the healthiest choice. Instead, try building your own pizza.

There are many ways to make a pizza that’s equal parts healthy and delicious. Load up your pie with lean proteins and fresh veggies, but McCarthy says it all starts with a healthy foundation: the crust.

“Whole-grain or cauliflower crusts provide a great way to consume more veggies and fiber to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels,” she says.

Finally, she says, try a gluten-free crust if you’re allergic or sensitive to the proteins found in wheat. “But be careful of cross-contamination with other foods that may contain these allergens,” she says.

A photograph of fruit popsicles, a healthy summer snack


We all scream for ice cream or any cool treat on a hot summer day, but satisfying our inner child comes at a price: a heaping helping of sugar and fat that, over time, could contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Thankfully, there are healthier ways to enjoy a cold treat. Switch out ice cream for fruit ice pops, sorbets, or Italian ice. Homemade sweet treats can be just as refreshing as a sundae.

“Make your own whole-fruit ice pop and avoid store-bought versions that are filled with added sugars and corn syrup,” McCarthy says.

Apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, and peaches all contain a good amount of fiber that will also make great ingredients for your next guilt-free summer treat.

“Swap a sugar-sweetened dessert with fresh fruits for a nutrient-dense and high fiber snack that will help you feel fuller longer,” McCarthy says.

How to play it safe with these 4 summer activities