It's hard to enjoy a summer excursion without being bombarded by high-cal, fatty foods and humongous portions at every turn. Making matters worse, if you find yourself catching a whiff of funnel cakes on an empty stomach, the temptation to get a plateful might be more than your weight-loss resolve can handle.
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We asked nutrition experts to share their know-how and take the guesswork out of the calorie counts of common foods you'll find at popular summer events. Find out what they suggested you steer clear of—and better-for-you options—to maximize fun without hurting your waistline.
1. The ballpark
Bathing suit bomber: Jumbo dogs and large beers
You don't have to get the super-sized foot-long, jumbo dog or the largest cup of beer, says David Grotto, RD, a former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and founder of Nutrition Housecall, a nutrition-consulting firm.
"A jumbo beef hot dog (larger than a foot-long) can contain about a half-pound of meat per dog!" says Grotto. That clocks in at around 750 calories and 68 grams of fat depending on the brand (and that doesn't even include the roll!) Washing that dog down with a tall 16 oz. regular beer will set you back about 200 more calories.
Better pick: Regular hot dogs and light beer
Grotto says enjoying a regular-sized hot dog (5 to 6 inches) and a small beer are fine. A regular dog on the bun with ketchup, relish and mustard comes in at around 280 calories. Pair it with a 12 oz. light brew for another 100 to 120 calories.
Just make sure you don't overload the dog with high-cal toppings. "It's the chili and cheese layered on top," says David Kessler, MD, author of The End of Overeating (Rodale, 2009). "That's when 300 or 400 calories turns into 1,500. The best trick is to have a plan. Know what you're going to eat and when you're going to eat."
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2. Outdoor concert
Bathing suit bomber: Frozen cocktails
What's often popular at these venues are "frozen everything" drinks, says Grotto. They can be fairly high in calories mostly because of the volume. A large frozen margarita can set you back 900 calories! Not to mention the fact that so much alcohol lowers inhibitions, and you start having a "Who cares?" mentality when deciding what to eat.
Better pick: Mojitos
This refreshing drink has about 170 to 230 calories and is usually made with light rum, lime or lemon juice, club soda, sugar, and fresh mint leaves. Choose the smallest size to save calories and keep from getting inebriated. If you are truly craving a margarita, order a small one on the rocks for a calorie range of 250 to 500 depending on the size. Remember, if you're thirsty and outside at an all-day concert, alcohol is the most dehydrating beverage you could have, says Grotto. Drink plenty of water to keep from getting parched.
3. The county fair
Bathing suit bomber: Giant fried drumsticks
Huge drumsticks remind me of the Renaissance Fair, says Grotto. "They're actually deep-fried turkey legs, and clock in close to 1,000 calories!"
"We make food into entertainment. It's becoming a food carnival," says Kessler. "In almost any recreational setting, the vast majority of foods are highly processed. That's what's driving intake at its core. It's the combination in these foods [sugar, fat, salt] that's stimulating us to eat more."
Better Pick: Chicken kabob
Choose grilled foods, like a 4 oz. chicken kabob for 450 calories or a medium-sized corn on the cob (hold the butter) for 77 calories.
Grotto also advises that you sit down and eat with a fork and knife because you're less likely to eat mindlessly.
4. The carnival
Bathing suit bomber: Funnel cakes
Funnel cake is a food you definitely want to stay away from, says Grotto. "Anything with the F-word—fried—is going to be higher in calories per density."
One 8.3 oz. funnel cake (about the size of a regular paper plate) with powdered sugar is 658 calories.
Better Pick: Cotton Candy
If your sweet tooth is craving something decadent, Grotto suggests cotton candy. "It's pure spun sugar and about 16 calories per teaspoon."
A small (about 1.5 oz.) is around 150 calories. Share with the kids and you'll eat fewer calories.
5. An amusement park
Bathing suit bomber: Fresh-squeezed lemonade
Homemade lemonade on a hot summer day sounds refreshing (even healthy!), but this is one of the more deceiving drinks, says Grotto. Quite often, it's made with sugar water in addition to the fresh-squeezed lemons. Lemonade contains about the same amount of calories as a full-sugared soda. Guzzling a 16 oz. lemonade will set you back 200 to 250 calories and no, this doesn't count as a serving of "fruit juice."
Better pick: Fruit-Flavored Water
Ask for ice water, lemon wedges or slices to squeeze and add artificial sweetener or two sugar packets for a tangy drink between 0 and 30 calories, says Grotto. Or, keep a few sugar-free single-serving drink mixes on hand to add flavor to your water bottle for 0 to 5 calories per serving.
6. Seafood festivals
Bathing suit bomber: Fried foods
Grotto suggests avoiding fried foods at these warm-weather festivals. French fries (6 oz. have 520 calories), crab cakes (a 3 oz. crab cake can have between 160 to 200 calories), and hush puppies (5 small pieces are about 260 calories) won't help you reach your weight loss goals any sooner.
Better pick: Lobster and crab meat
Grotto says lobster and crab are fine as far as calories go, especially if you have to work at getting to the meat. He says you'll likely eat more if the meat is already pulled out of the shell for you. "It's not the lobster or crab…but the butter and the sides that will do you in."
7. The movie theater
Bathing suit bomber: Super-sized servings
Huge tubs of popcorn and extra-large cups of sugary sodas are tempting because the largest sizes don't cost much more than the smaller servings. Grotto says, "I get that it makes more financial sense to get the larger serving, but if you're going to do that, get two people to split a drink, and get the bucket that's shared by all."
A large buttered popcorn at AMC Movie Theatres can have 1,640 calories and 126 g of fat in its 20-cup serving! If you quench your thirst with a "medium" 20 oz. nondiet soda that adds another 250 calories.
Better pick: Kiddie-size combos
"I won't tell clients not to get popcorn at the movies because that's part of the fun and the experience and I enjoy it, too," says Grotto. "In some theaters in the Midwest, we have Kiddie Combos which have about 2 cups of popcorn, a small package of candy, and a small beverage."
At AMC Movie Theatres, a kid-size popcorn without butter has about 300 calories and 20 g of fat. (The buttered version of the kid's size adds 170 calories and 17 g of fat.)
Grotto suggests you fill your cup with better beverages like unsweetened iced-tea, diet soda, or water.
8. The bar for happy hour
Bathing suit bomber: Fried finger foods
Fried appetizers are definitely foods to avoid at the bar. "A lot of people get fried zucchini or fried mushrooms," says Grotto, thinking they're a "healthier" choice. "There's no calorie advantage to eating those foods versus fries or onion rings."
Fried zucchini has about 346 calories for a 5 oz. serving, fried mushrooms have 315 calories for a 5 oz. serving, and onion rings have about 470 calories for a 5 oz. serving.
Better pick: Veggies
"Order a relish or antipasto plate," says Grotto. Munch a few cheese cubes, pickles, olives, or chew on hard, crisp veggies like celery or carrots.
Medium-sized olives are about 4 calories each, small pickle slices are about 1 calorie each, and one cracker-sized slice of cheddar cheese is about 22 calories.
9. A cocktail party
Bathing suit bomber: Bowls of Snacks
The host generously made sure there were plenty of tasty snacks within every guest's reach at her party, but it's easy to overdo it if you're digging in mindlessly while you chat with friends. Twenty potato chips have about 200 calories, and a ½ c of dry-roasted, salted peanuts will set you back 427 calories. Not to mention those snacks will make you thirsty, causing you to drink your cocktail faster!
Better pick: Handful of snacks
"Take a handful and remove the bowl from the table if you can," says Grotto. "If you're out with friends and they want to keep eating, dip your hand into the basket as soon as you can and that's that with your portion."
Grotto suggests taking small bites and eating one chip at a time. "It won't make a difference in the calories, but you might be more cognizant of how much you're eating if you do that."
Stick with 10 potato chips (100 calories) or 40 peanuts (237 calories) to keep from taking in too many calories.
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