Picture a cookout. Do you see burgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and lots of greasy chips? Do you feel resigned to having cookouts be “cheat days” from healthy eating?
It doesn’t have to stay this way. A cookout doesn’t need to feature foods high in calories, saturated fats, and salt — and low in fiber and nutrition. Instead, you can plan a tasty and festive cookout featuring lean grilled protein and an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables.
With a few simple swaps, you can turn your next picnic or barbecue into a flavorful, heart-healthy feast. Here’s how to plan a menu that features the best flavors of the season.
Essential Heart-Healthy Cookout Tips
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Go for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Heart-healthy eating begins with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which come packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and sodium and cholesterol-free. These perks can help keep your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in a healthy range.
Add these summer favorites to the table at your next cookout:
You can prepare fruits and vegetables in many different ways, so they’re easy to add to your menu. You can eat some raw, while others only need a few minutes on the grill to bring out their flavor.
Go for Lean Protein
For your main dishes, choose lean protein or vegetables instead of hamburgers and hot dogs. Some ideas include:
- Skinless chicken breast.
- Fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. Good choices include salmon, trout, and bluefin tuna.
- Portobello mushrooms.
Eating red or processed meat can lead to a higher risk of heart conditions such as atherosclerosis. It also increases the level of low-density lipoproteins (otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol) in your system.
That said, if a cookout just isn’t the same without a burger, try ground turkey, chicken, or lean or extra-lean beef. Then try getting creative with these alternatives to hamburger buns.
Typical buns are often high in carbs and can pose challenges to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Lighten Up Your Sides and Desserts
There are many ways to lighten up your sides and desserts without losing out on flavor. At your next cookout:
- Serve a leafy green salad with vinaigrette dressing instead of potato or macaroni salad.
- Choose light mayonnaise for potato or macaroni salad instead of regular.
- Use whole grain pasta and add extra vegetables to macaroni salad.
- Grill vegetable kebabs for a colorful, flavorful side dish.
- Set out a tray of fresh, raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower with low-fat yogurt dip instead of potato chips.
- Toss together nutrient-packed berries for a fruit salad.
- Serve slices of fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.
- Skip the ice cream and grill peaches, pineapple, or watermelon for dessert.
Stay Hydrated the Heart-Healthy Way
When your heart gets enough water, it can pump better. On hot summer days especially, make sure you drink plenty of water. But you should also make sure you drink enough water on other days as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that men should have 125 ounces of water per day, while women should have 91 ounces per day. This can include the water found in foods like fruit and vegetables. However, as of 2018, the average U.S. adult drank only 44 ounces of water per day.
You can also add a slice of lemon or lime to your water for a refreshing kick, or go for unsweetened iced tea. Make sure you keep alcohol to a minimum, and skip the sugary soda.
Short-term alcohol use can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Likewise, long-term alcohol use can lead to a weakened heart muscle and irregular heartbeat.
As for soda, those who drink it (or any other artificially sweetened beverages) on a regular basis take on an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Drinking one or two cans of soda per day or more can also lead to a higher chance of type 2 diabetes.
To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.