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The Foolproof Plan for Sticking to Your Diet at a BBQ, According to a Nutritionist

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The temperatures are rising, the days are longer, and vacations are approaching, which can only mean two things: Summer is here, and the barbecues are out! A barbecue on a summer weekend is arguably the perfect way to spend your time — catching up with friends and family, enjoying the fresh air, and (of course) having some delicious food. However, if you are mindful of eating healthy foods and sticking to a sensible diet, barbecue season might seem a lot less fun. Fortunately, Frida Harju-Westman, the in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum, has shared with FirstforWomen.com her best tips for enjoying a delicious barbecue and staying healthy at the same time.

Unhealthy BBQ Foods: The Worst Offenders

When it comes to barbecue foods, sausages and burgers are foods that should ideally be swapped for chicken or beef, as so many of the usual barbecue meats are highly processed. Similarly, toppings like cheeses, sauces, and dressings will pile on the calories, with processed cheeses having as many as 100 calories per slice and buns adding 40 percent more fat than normal breads. Desserts are also among the worst offenders; think sweet cakes, doughnuts, ice cream pops, and cookies.

Healthy BBQ Options: What to Eat

Among your best options for health cookout fare would be a veggie sausage — which, despite being high in sodium, is very low in calories. If you would still rather go for meat, go for grilled chicken or beef, and add as many vegetables as you can your plate. Alternatively, a plain burger without the bun is a great option. Lose the gherkin, and have avocado/cucumber/lettuce on top of your sandwich instead. (Although gherkins contain zinc and iron, high levels of salt counteract the benefits. During the pickling process, all vitamins and minerals are also diminished.) Lastly, when it comes to sauces, go for mustard or ketchup instead of mayonnaise. If you are feeling more adventurous, homemade tzatziki (a Greek cucumber-yogurt sauce) is a delicious and low-calorie option.

What to Eat Before a BBQ So You Keep Your Appetite in Check

As always, start the day with a healthy breakfast. Eggs and spinach are a great option, as is porridge, or oatmeal with chia or flax seeds. Make sure to get lots of fiber and protein; chicken and vegetables — such as cabbage and eggplant — are perfect for that. It’s also a good idea to liberally add spices and flavorings to your food, such as cinnamon or vinegar, both of which work to curb your hunger and leave you feeling fuller much longer. In terms of snacks, go for some unsalted nuts, as they are full of protein, fiber, and good fat, which will leave you feeling full and will speed up your metabolism. Other protein-heavy snacks include a boiled egg, turkey slices, or cottage cheese, which you can have an hour before the barbecue and which will prevent you from overeating. Here are three more ways to make your BBQ healthier.

1. Marinate.

Think ahead and marinate your meat the night before you host a barbecue. This will add plenty of flavor to the food and is much healthier — all you have to do is marinate your meat (ideally with homemade marinade, as opposed to store-bought) and place in a sealed bag in your refrigerator overnight. The next day, place directly on the grill for a yummy and healthy meal.

2. Skip the processed stuff.

While more time-consuming, making your own burgers and hot dogs is a much healthier alternative to the ready-made, processed meats available in the store. Simply buy the meat, add flavorings and make everything from scratch — this will keep the meal healthier and your friends are guaranteed to be impressed with all the effort you’ve put in. Tip: Lean meats like chicken and turkey have a lot less fat and cholesterol than red meats, such as pork!

3. Get plenty of vegetables.

Before heading to the meat tables, fill half your plate with vegetables. Not only will this make your plate look brighter, but you will also be snacking on nutritious, low-calorie foods, which will keep you fuller for longer, preventing you from over-indulging on the less healthy stuff. If you are hosting the cookout, a really nice idea is to grill your vegetables. Some options that turn out really well on the grill are bell peppers, corn, mushrooms, asparagus, eggplant and zucchini.

This post was origianlly written by Frida Harju-Westman.

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