by Elizabeth McMillan
Summer barbecues and cookouts are a hallmark of American tradition, filled with a glorious spread of foods. The classic summer foods like burgers, brats and macaroni salad can easily tip the scale the next morning, which leads to the constant question—how does one day of “bad” eating lead to a weight gain. The answer is commonly inflammation and not fat.
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to illness, toxins and disease. Without inflammation, the body cannot repair itself. Yet, weekend dietary changes and certain foods can start an inflammatory cascade that leads to a few extra pounds on Monday morning and can cause fatigue, excess mucus and allergies, joint pain, constipation/diarrhea, brain fog and a feeling of being rundown. Another common symptom of inflammation is gut bloat. Foods such as refined sugars/grains, alcohol, dairy and saturated fats can over-activate the immune system, causing inflammation and pain. Avoiding these pro-inflammatory foods and substituting them for healthier options can help decrease the inflammatory response.
When planning a cook-out that won’t leave the guests feeling inflamed or bloated the next morning, it is important to remember a few ideas and foods to include. First, consider the type of meat to serve. Choosing lighter meats like chicken, turkey and fish are typically easier on the immune system then red meat. Fish and poultry decreases the intake of saturated fats especially compared to pork and beef. Marinating your protein choice is also key because it naturally tenderizes the meat, making it easier to digest. The addition of anti-inflammatory spices in a marinate like turmeric, black pepper, sage, rosemary, cayenne pepper and ginger will not only add taste and flavor but also cut the inflammatory cascade.
Secondly, embrace colorful side dishes filled with locally grown fruits and vegetables to decrease inflammation. Typical barbecue side dishes include mac and cheese, coleslaw and potato salad; all very white in color and comprised of simple carbohydrates and high calories. Unfortunately, these do not provide many healthful nutrients and leave you hungrier.
Colorful grilled vegetable kabobs are not only healthy, but also easy to make. A simple kabob might include threading of a mixture of mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and zucchini onto a skewer. One can marinate the vegetables in a simple lemon and garlic brine or use some more anti-inflammatory spices. Some top anti-inflammatory foods that are great for grilling or at a picnic include leafy greens, bok choy, avocados, turmeric, beets, tomatoes, pineapple and lemon. Finding these foods at a local farmers’ market is not only great for the community but the body creates harmony by eating with the local seasons.
Finally, there are also many options for making traditionally unhealthy food—healthy. By replacing common pro-inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, corn and sugar for gluten-free grains like quinoa, or other healthier substitutes like avocados, olive oil or natural sugars like maple syrup and honey, one can enjoy common barbecue recipes without missing a beat. For instance, a common potato salad could be altered to use red skin potatoes (with the skin left on), avocado can be used instead of mayonnaise and a mixture of steamed broccoli and cauliflower can be mashed together with some spices. Revamping some tradition recipes can be a fun and exciting way to add in more nutrients but also leaves guests energetically asking for the recipes.
Often, our healthy eating strategies can get derailed from a summer picnic, but the good news is they don’t have to. Be sure to challenge yourself this summer by switching up the menu at your next picnic for healthier, anti-inflammatory options.