Summer is full of food and drink temptations, some of which are better for you than others. We take a look at making the most of the food that is available and avoiding the major dietary pitfalls of the season.
Summer is a mixed blessing when it comes to our diets. On the one hand, there's an abundance of fresh, locally-produced food to choose from and the longer hours of daylight make it easier to resist comfort-eating. On the other hand, there are holiday indulgences and a general devil-may-care attitude dangerously coupled with the desire for a body worth showing off in a bikini. How can you make summer a time of celebrating food whilst also looking after your health?
Fruit and vegetables
Summer is a fantastic season for fresh fruit and vegetables. With supermarkets catching on to the demand of locally-produced food, you don't even have to go out of your way to a farmers' market (although it's a lovely treat to visit one if you can!). The produce shelves are groaning with all sorts of soft fruit and berries,
delicate new season potatoes, sugar snap peas, intense tomatoes and a bewildering range of different salad leaves. Go for as many different colours in your fruit and veg as possible. Enjoy the simplicity of a summer salad (maybe add some mixed seeds and a cold-pressed oil of your choice for extra nutritional oooomph). Make fresh fruit and veg your guilt-free snack whenever the urge to graze hits you. This is one area where you can indulge to your heart's content.
Meat and fish
Meat and fish are best for you in as unprocessed a form as possible, cooked simply to retain all of their nutritional value. That much is true all year round. In summer, this translates into choosing steak rather than sausages to put on the barbecue, making your own hamburgers rather than buying readymade ones, and sticking to simple methods such as grilling your meat. Cost considerations align neatly with looking after your health: It's far better for your body and your wallet to eat really good-quality meat once or twice a week than to kae do with mass-produced processed stuff on a daily basis.
People are often nervous about cooking and eating different kinds of fish. Perhaps it's just that we don't, as a society, have the Mediterranean habit of eating fish on an everyday basis (unless it's fish and chips!). We expect fish to be complicated to prepare, or full of bones, or just not very nice. Break away from these prejudices! Summer is a great time for lightly grilling a tuna steak, wrapping a chunk of cod in some foil with some spring onions and mixed vegetables and baking the whole lot in the oven for 20 minutes, or chucking a side of salmon on the barbecue.
Keeping hydrated is important at any time of the year, but in warmer weather the need becomes particularly obvious. Water remains your best bet, but that can get a little boring. Try flavouring it with a little lemon juice. Make herbal or fruit teas, allow to infuse, and then chill them in the fridge for several hours – peppermint is incredibly refreshing cold, and fruit teas take on a whole different flavour drunk cold.
Summer food pitfalls
Sadly, summer is also full of temptations that aren't going to do our bodies any favours. The two main pitfalls come in the form of drinks and sweet treats.
Summer drinks... Think Pimm's and lemonade. A glass (or three) of crisp cold white wine. Champagne to go with your strawberries. A pint of cold beer after a long day of work. The alcoholic temptations seem endless. But not only is alcohol essentially a toxin to your body, it will also pile on the calories and lead to less-than-sensible food choices (post-pub kebab, anyone?). The trick is to plan for your alcoholic indulgences. If you're someone who does best on total abstinence, then work on your repertoire of alcohol-free drinks. If moderation is more your thing, decide which particular drink you'd really enjoy and make the most of that experience, but don't go overboard.
Summer drinks aren't all acloholic, of course. There's elderflower cordial. A vast array of iced coffees with different syrupy flavourings. More types of fizzy drinks than you could possibly hope to guzzle in a lifetime. Tempting as these are, you need to keep one word in mind: Sugar. All of the examples just mentioned are an entirely unnecessary way of adding sugar to your diet. They won't actually quench your thirst – in fact, they'll make you thirstier – and they'll play havoc with your blood sugar levels. If you must indulge, fresh fruit juice diluted with sparkling water is your best bet (though it would still be best to drink the water and eat the fruit).
The other major summer food pitfall is sweet treats of all descriptions. Summer pudding, ice cream, lovely light chocolate mousse... Once again, the best way to deal with these particular temptations is either to replace them with healthier-but-still-delectable alternatives (any kind of berries with cream are a good option, sprinkled with some grated dark chocolate for extra decadence), or cultivate the discipline of moderation.
Finding a balance
Moderation is not exactly a fashionable concept in our consumption-driven culture. The idea of abstaining from transient pleasures that will do us no good in the long run does not sell products. Talking about rationing things that we enjoy goes against every idea we have about summer as a time of lazy indulgence. Surely this is a time to let go of worrying about our diets, a time for indulging to our hearts' content?
Tempting as that sounds, anyone who has ever adopted that attitude for a summer knows that there are consequences to pay. Of course you might choose to indulge and then pay those consequences. Or you might choose to plan your pleasures wisely, enjoying the abundance of summer without letting that enjoyment come at a cost to your health. It's entirely up to you.