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Desi Diva
By Aruna Paramasivam

Summer Eating Tips - Stay Cool While Looking Hot

You worked really hard to show off your svelte figure in cute halter dresses and short skirts for the summer, but are you finding it challenging to maintain your healthy habits as you hear the inviting jingle of the ice-cream truck in the evenings? While it may seem that temptations abound this time of year with the beach, barbecue and happy hour invitations, eating well is actually easier during the warmer months than any other time. The abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables combined with the chance to grill foods offers many tasty alternatives to the high-fat and guilt-laden foods we usually associate with this season.

Here are some tips and tricks that my fitness friends and I use to stay swimsuit-ready all year long.

Enjoy the Thrill of the Grill
Hamburgers and hot dogs are traditionally the main staples of a cookout. When eating red meat, choose leaner cuts when possible. I find minimal taste difference in 96 percent lean ground beef when compared to fattier cuts. Ground lean turkey burgers are also delicious, and even more so when combined with Indian spices like garam masala, cumin or curry powder. With hot dogs, go with chicken, turkey or tofu-based choices. You will be surprised at the variety of brands and types out there. My favorite kind is Trader Joe’s spicy mango or jalapeno chicken sausages–they are not only lower in fat and minimally processed but also an especially nice compliment to our Desi tastes.

Aruna Paramasivam. Photographer: JW Atherton

Grilling chicken, fish, tofu or veggie burgers, which have less saturated fat than red meat, are also an equally tasty alternative. Marinate your grill meats in salsa, vinaigrette or citrus juices to really bring out the summer spirit, or try a yogurt-based Tandoori paste for a spicier zing.

Finally, stick to 100 percent whole grain rolls and breads. These days, you can find 100 percent whole wheat hamburger and hot dog buns as well as whole grain muffins, pitas and wraps in most neighborhood grocery stores. I especially like Ezekiel breads (made by Food for Life), which are flour-less and made from sprouted grains. And remember, it’s okay to break tradition and use lettuce wraps or go bread-less.

Additionally, almost any vegetable or fruit can be grilled. Besides the usual suspects such as zucchini, bell peppers and corn, you can wrap tomatoes and garlic in foil and toss whole heads of cauliflower and broccoli on the grill, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based registered dietician. She advises her clients to make sure half the grill is loaded with veggies for automatic portion control.

Veggies Meet Fruit
Speaking of vegetables and fruit, to add to the aesthetic presentation of any summer party I host I try to include as many colors as possible in the variety I serve. This is pleasing to the eye and includes a wide array of nutrients. Fresh fruit is a perfect, refreshing accompaniment for any summer occasion. And there is no better way to kick off a meal than with a light, crisp and fresh salad.

Fruit and vegetables provide many of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our bodies need. Strawberries, kiwi and cantaloupe are high in vitamin C, which helps lower the duration and severity of the common cold. Cantaloupe, apricots and mango are high in vitamin A, which aids in fighting infections and maintaining eyesight. Pineapple, blackberries and raspberries are high in the mineral manganese, which promotes bone density. So go ahead and freely load up your plates with a wonderful array of fresh fruits and vegetables. This will fill you up and stop you from unnecessary munching. Try our Cuisine expert’s Desi fruit salad for a salad with some spice.

When preparing salads, choose a lower fat salad dressing or use olive oil and vinegar-based homemade versions (the rule of thumb for any home-made oil-based dressing is a 1:3 ratio for oil versus other flavors). Some of my favorite store-bought salad dressing brands are Newman’s Own Lighten Up and Annie’s Natural Dressing. Both brands offer numerous choices from the simple Italian dressing to the more exotic shiitake and sesame to please any kind of palette. Salad ingredients can consist of different types of lettuce or greens, grape tomatoes, raw zucchini or summer squash, cucumbers, mandarin oranges, pecans, strawberries and almonds. The options are endless. Include meat, chicken or fish to accompany your salad for a balanced meal. If you are vegetarian, be sure to add low-fat cottage cheese, tofu, hard-boiled egg whites or hummus to include protein. Protein digests slower, helps in muscle building and keeps you fuller for longer.

Fake that Milkshake
When tempted by ice cream or milk shakes, fruit smoothies can serve as a refreshing cold substitute to hit the sweet spot. I like to add whey protein when possible to make it a balanced mini meal. I use Syntrax Nectar whey isolate, which comes in many fun and fruity flavors: Caribbean Cooler, Apple Ecstasy, Twisted Cherry and Roadside Lemonade are just a few. Mix with water, ice, skim milk or unsweetened almond (I like Blue Diamond’s version) or coconut milk (make sure you buy the unsweetened version from Turtle Mountain). Add any combination of fresh fruit and experiment to see what you get.

To change up the consistency for a more ice cream or pudding feel, try using Greek yogurt or low fat cottage or ricotta cheese as a base. Mix your base with sugar-free Jell-O mix or chocolate/vanilla/strawberry protein powders. Blend and freeze your concoction for a surprisingly nutritious yet satisfying dessert option you can enjoy nightly without guilt.

Drink Up!
Lastly, do not forget to hydrate even more than usual in these warmer months. If plain iced water sounds boring, switch it up with iced green tea, pitchers of Crystal Light or even water with lemon or strawberry slices that serve as a natural sweetener. Make sure you drink at least 64 ounces, if not more, to keep yourself cool in the heat and humidity. As you sweat, it is important to replenish your body with liquids adequately.

When tempted with alcoholic beverages in social situations, choose drinks with less sugar. Flavored vodka with club soda is my beverage of choice in the summer. I also enjoy sangria made from red wine, which has antioxidant benefits, and a lot of fruit.

Finally, remember that indulging every so often is okay! A single decadent ice cream sundae or a couple of frozen margaritas will not completely undo all your hard work at the gym or derail you entirely. Just make sure you plan your treats, don’t overdo it and get back to making wise food choices as part of your lifestyle. The trick to maintaining a year-round lean physique is ultimately consistency in smart and sensible habits on a long-term basis. This will bring you many healthy, sunny days!

Aruna is a management consultant and fitness enthusiast who lives in New York City. She is a South Asian professional who pursues fitness modeling and competing as an active hobby and enjoys sharing her tips for success with others.


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