Beach season ought to be a sensual time of bare skin and sunshine. But for many of us, sand dunes inspire doom and gloom, as we look down regretfully at our winter-thickened bodies.
Researchers at UCLA surveyed more than 50,000 people — picture the white coats trolling Venice Beach — on body image and swimwear, and they discovered that only one-quarter of men and 12 percent of women feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit in public. Call it Tankini Syndrome: Most of us would rather hide in the beach grass than show off at the beach. And that's no way to approach the sexiest time of the year!
Of course, the best way to shape up for the skin season is to make consistently healthy food choices, day in and day out. But research shows that certain foods — from salt-laden salads to sugary summer cocktails — can actually sabotage our smart choices.
Indeed, some foods not only make us fatter, they make us look fatter than we really are, by causing the body to retain water, shocking us with high calories, and otherwise pumping us up in all the wrong ways.
Learning to identify and avoid these bust-out foods could be the difference between a glorious day in surf and sun, and a paranoid one stuck under a mumu, washed up behind the tide-line.
Here are six foods that can ruin your summer fun.
1. Caesar salad
Salt binges can lead to water retention, which gives you way too much in common with a blue whale — and it’s so embarrassing when Greenpeace shows up and tries to roll you back into the water. And with the sodium-soaked trio of anchovies, fried croutons, and Parmesan cheese, Caesar salad is a salt mine in a bowl.
But it’s not just sodium: Caesar ranks right up there with taco salads as the most misbegotten "health" foods out there. Need proof? A Chili’s Chicken Caesar Salad has 1,010 calories, 76 grams of fat, and 1,910 mg sodium. If you spill some of it, you should chuck it over your shoulder for good luck.
2. Potato salad
This mayo-drenched spud festival may be a summertime staple, but it’s capable of doing both short- and long-term damage to your beach bod. The short-term damage comes from the carbs in the potatoes, which produce gas as they’re digested — cue the on-shore breezes — and the high sodium content: a full cup of the stuff can contain well over 1,000 mg of sodium. And this simple "salad" is one of the most calorie-dense foods on the planet — so you eat now, and pay later, and later, and later.
3. Cruciferous vegetables
Nutritionists will tell you that cruciferous vegetables — including broccoli, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts — are the best foods for any occasion. And they’re great foods for maintaining long-term weight loss. But we offer a single exception: the moment immediately before you don a swimsuit. These veggies contain a complex sugar called raffinose, which is not digested by the body.
Instead of feeding you, the raffinose ends up feeding the uncouth bacteria in your stomach, which express their gratitude by giving you gas and bloating. By all means, go cruciferous after the beach visit, and you'll fill your belly with nutrient-dense foods, not the calorie-dense variety.
Chili's paunch-heavy impact deserves a mention, especially since the meat-and-bean concoction is so likely to decorate countless hot dogs this summer. Even without meat, chili can have you nervously clutching your belly with both hands to cover the swell-and-ripple effect of too much sodium and a big helping of beans (beans are the most abundant source of the bloating sugar raffinose).
Even Au Bon Pain’s Low-Fat Vegetarian Chili has nearly 1,300 mg of sodium and a slurry of beans in a 12-ounce cup. Make your own low-salt bowl at home, though, and you'll have a healthy meal and process it before sunrise. Assuming you can work out any after-effects with your family and friends, it's all good.
For many, the beach and neon-tinted booze go hand in hand, but this summertime favorite hits you on two levels: First, with a tide of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup that comprises 99 percent of margarita mixes out there. Second is the immediate impact of the salt-encrusted rim, which will keep all of that liquid stored up in your midsection. A 12-ounce goblet rings up 564 calories and 2,150 mg of sodium. A couple of these will have your belly looking more like a water balloon than a washboard.
6. Beef and Broccoli
Remember what we said about the raffinose in cruciferous vegetables? That's the first reason you should avoid the beef-and-broccoli special at the Chinese takeout. If they serve it over lo mien noodles, the carb payload can create a gas build-up as it passes through your system.
The beach-body death blow, however, comes from the guaranteed quadruple-digit sodium count in so many Chinese dishes. For perspective, P.F. Chang’s traditional beef and broccoli dish has more than a day’s worth of sodium — plus 65 grams of fat, enough to cloud the entire vacation weekend.
As for the very best foods you should be eating when you're feeling fat, stressed, sad, tired — or want an instant brain boost or to get "in the mood" — check out these superb food fixes for whatever your body or mind may need.
And when you're out, these 15 restaurant swaps can help you avoid a dietary disaster. Have other suggestions? Please share them with all of us here.
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