As the summer heat revs up from blazing to blistering, we often find ourselves looking to chilled snacks and drinks, such as ice cream or blended coffee drinks, as easy ways to cool off. Fast food restaurants, EMS break rooms and roadside ice cream stores are all convenient for making quick stops for cold treats. Unfortunately, many of our summertime favorites are high in sugar, calories and fat. Consider these healthier options to keep you from bulking up while cooling down:
A surprising number of people are chronically dehydrated, especially during the summer, so water should be your beverage of choice. As a rule of thumb the body needs one milliliter of water (or caffeine-free equivalent like juice, milk, etc.) for every calorie you eat. So if you eat 2,000 calories per day, you need 2,000 milliliters (or 8.3 cups) of water every day—so was born the “eight glasses per day” mantra. If you’re not sure how many calories you eat every day, another option is 30 to 40 milliliters per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 85 kilograms (around 187 pounds), that means you would need 2,550 to 3,400 milliliters per day, an impressive 11 to 14 cups. Be cautious with commercial rehydration beverages that are designed for athletes—they are frequently high in calories that the average person doesn’t really need. If you like the flavor, choose the lower calorie versions or dilute standard versions with water.
If you don’t like the taste of water by itself, there are many flavorings that add a lot of taste for very few calories. Packets of flavoring powder in flavors like lemonade or pomegranate are available at many supermarkets, and convenience stores. There are also “water enhancers” that add flavor with just a few drops of a special flavoring liquid. For the purist, a slice of lemon or lime, a few fresh berries, or a slice of cucumber all add flavor naturally.
Ice cream is the epitome of a summer treat because it is cold, creamy and refreshing and can be served in a variety of ways. The downside is that the average scoop of ice cream provides at least 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. With a double or triple scoop in a cone, the calories add up quickly.
One option increasing in popularity is “slow-churned” ice cream: the mixing and freezing process is different from that of standard ice cream and naturally reduces the need for added fat to maintain quality. Slow-churned ice cream has fewer calories than regular ice cream and less fat cup for cup.
Custard & Frozen Yogurt
People frequently think of custard or frozen yogurt as healthier alternatives to ice cream, but this often isn’t true. Preparation of custard is virtually the same as ice cream except that it contains more egg yolks, making it higher in calories, fat and cholesterol. Frozen yogurt can be lower in fat, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be—a low fat or fat-free ice cream is a healthier choice than a full-fat frozen yogurt. Your best bet is to read labels, looking for key factors including calories, fat, sugar and cholesterol. At restaurants, choose products marked “low fat” or “fat-free,” and minimize the toppings and mix-ins. Fat-free vanilla yogurt mixed with peanut butter cups and topped with whipped cream and hot fudge is much less healthy than full-fat vanilla yogurt eaten plain.
Iced Coffee & Blended Coffee Drinks
Caffeine gets most people started in the morning and is a popular go-to choice when working a 24. Summertime heat can make a hot cup of coffee look a lot less appetizing, and many caffeine purveyors have turned to iced or blended coffee drinks as the solution. When it comes to these drinks, a basic iced coffee is your healthiest option. It’s typically made by brewing extra strong coffee and putting it over ice, so when the ice melts (if you don’t drink the coffee first), you’re left with standard strength coffee. Some establishments cold brew the coffee, with slight difference in flavor and process but still resulting in just straight cold coffee.
Many variations on this standard exist—the iced mocha and iced latte, for example, are increasingly popular. Perhaps most popular, particularly among those looking more for flavor than for caffeine, is the blended coffee, aka frappé, Starbucks Frappuccino, etc. This drink consists of espresso, ice, milk or cream, and sugary syrups of the chocolate/caramel/hazelnut variety. You could also think of this as the coffee milkshake. It is refreshing, delicious and can pack as much as 550 calories and 10 g of fat for a medium size. Luckily, since it’s usually made from scratch, you can cut a lot of the excess. Ask for “skinny,” “light,” “low-fat,” “no whip,” or whatever your coffee shop of choice offers in the vein of making your drink less terribly unhealthy. Most places have a healthier option that uses skim milk, sugar-free syrup and cuts out the whipped cream. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores may be the exception—their drinks usually come as a premixed package and can’t be changed. In that case, opt for a small and ask for no extra toppings.
When thinking of healthier summer choices, don’t forget good ol’ frozen fruit as a snack option. This one can be difficult to enjoy at work if a freezer isn’t available. Consider bringing a small cooler or choose to enjoy on your days off. Grapes, sliced bananas, mango and any kind of berry can all be frozen in bite-sized pieces and eaten straight out of the freezer for a cold, sweet, healthy treat.
Smoothies are quite refreshing and can be very healthy. They’re like a milkshake but without ice cream, relying instead on frozen fruit or ice cubes to make them thick and cold. Many restaurants offer fruit smoothies ranging in a variety of flavors from orange mango to blueberry pomegranate, with or without yogurt, full fat and fat free. If you’re using it as a meal, add the yogurt for protein. If it’s a snack, choose a small, skip the yogurt, or ask for fat free to make it refreshing but lower in calories. Smoothies are also easy to make at home: Follow the simple smoothie formula below, choosing 1-2 items from each column. Mix all ingredients in a blender and enjoy!
Use these combinations to make some favorites:
Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie: bananas, low fat chocolate milk, low fat Greek yogurt, peanut butter, sugar substitute, cocoa powder
PB&J Smoothie: Strawberries, almond milk, peanut butter, dry oatmeal, agave nectar
Chocolate-Covered Cherry Smoothie: cherries, low fat milk, almond butter, sugar substitute, cocoa powder