Are you “heat eating” yourself into bad health?

Long sunny days spent pool or beachside, seasonal soirees and trips away… Summer is definitely the season for fun.

But while this lifestyle may be carefree (and much needed after a busy lead up to Christmas), it can also be a time where we fall into a few frighteningly high calorie traps – without realising it.

According to Kate Save, practicing dietitian and exercise physiologist, diabetes expert and co-founder of Be Fit Food – “heat eating” is a trap many of us easily fall into over summer.

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So, what is it? Well, people often think it’s winter and comfort food that can be dangerous to the diet, but actually light summer snacks can be the most deceptive when it comes to high sugar and high salt. Heat eating is the consumption of food and drink we think are good for us but are actually laden with sugar, calories and other nasties.

With that in mind, Kate has shared the most common seasonal traps and what alternatives we can choose to make sure we’re balancing our fun and sun with our tums this summer.

Sneaky sugar-laden salad (dressings):

Definitely up there as one of the most common heat eating traps, salads are a summer staple, and definitely the healthier option (especially compared to beer battered fish and chips!). However, if you are trying to be mindful of your calorie intake, don’t dismiss the dressing.

Dressings are often hiding high levels of saturated fat, calories, sodium, and added sugar, particularly when it’s straight out of the bottle. And while DIY Dressing might sound difficult, it’s actually super simple, and you don’t need the culinary prowess of Martha Stewart to make your own.

For example, vinaigrette can be made in an old (washed) jar with just a handful of ingredients. All you need to do is stir together a good quality olive oil, vinegar of your choice and dijon mustard as the base and then spice it up to your desired tastes. Try perhaps some fresh garlic, chilli and controlled amounts of salt and pepper.

Try adding a small amount of a natural sweetener such as stevia (which is also low in calories) or some manuka honey (which is high in fructose if not used sparingly however it does have some other microbial benefits). Equating to approximately 40-50 calories, this light and fresh dressing alternative will transform your salads and keep you refreshed in the heat without the side of guilt.

Beware the cold ones!

Say the words ice cream, ice blocks and we can safely assume it’s a sugar flag. Frozen yoghurt can be a bit of a grey area but yoghurt itself as an ice cream alternative might seem safe, but in reality, it’s not always the healthier option.

While sometimes you can’t resist a creamy-sweet treat, know that there are healthier and lower-calorie options out there. Homemade banana ice cream is the perfect base for homemade treats. Simply freeze a banana before blending it with plain greek yoghurt to create a sweet, creamy, frozen yoghurt-style dessert.

You can also add additional fresh flavours such as cinnamon, other frozen fruit, vanilla protein powder (this makes it really fluffy) or even natural peanut butter. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can pop these into popsicle molds and have them as ice blocks.

Beware of the beverages:

A colourful summer spritz on holidays, poolside or by the beach is the very picture postcard of summer fun. However, a big heat eating trap is when we’re not eating, but actually drinking high levels of hidden calories and sugar.

Our rapid weight loss programs always encourage an alcohol detox as well, particularly post overindulgent seasons such as Christmas. Abstaining from alcohol means we’re often less inclined to blow out on bad food, we metabolise food faster plus we reap all the benefits of better sleep and elevated moods.

In an ideal world, a two-week detox would be the circuit breaker for a metabolic reset. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a great idea to take a break from alcohol and instead embrace soda or mineral water spiked with fresh mint, cucumber, or citrus over plonk.

Realistically, that isn’t going to tempt everyone with busy summer social calendars so if you are indulging in alcohol look out for lower calorie options – vodka with soda and fresh lime has always been a dietitian’s go-to, but there’s nothing trendier these days than a seltzer, and most are around 50 calories a can, and that sure beats any standard ready-to-drink (just make sure you double check the label first).

At the end of the day, while we often associate winter with comfort food that creeps on those kilos, summer and sugar can be a hidden trap for many. Sugar, by the way, has been shown to be as addictive as illicit drugs and makes it really hard to maintain balance. That’s what makes sugar so dangerous, it can quickly spiral and the addictive nature makes it very difficult to get yourself back on track.

Ultimately- if you’re making food at home, do as we do with all our Be Fit Food prepared meals and load up those vegetables. Take a potato salad for example, it’s a BBQ staple and oh-so-delicious but you can counter the nutrient-deficient white potatoes with sweet potatoes, added beans, sun-dried tomatoes and switching out mayo for greek yoghurt or the like.

Whatever you do, don’t let weight worry rain on your summer parade, just keep an eye out for the hidden nasties and play it smart – after all, knowledge is power when it comes to controlling your consumption.

Kate Save is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and a Diabetes Educator.

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