TUESDAY, June 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Summer get-togethers provide a perfect opportunity to eat fresh and healthy foods, an expert says.
"Picnics, tailgates and barbecues are the perfect occasions to take advantage of the wonderful fruits and vegetables that are available from May through September," Katherine Farrell Harris, director of Integrated Nutrition for AdvantageCare Physicians, said in a news release.
"I always tell patients that if they are outside in the fresh air, they should be consuming foods that are fresh and found in nature -- like vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes and water instead of processed foods created in labs and factories," she said.
If you're hosting an outdoor gathering, forget about processed foods. Instead, use fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a balanced meal that includes vegetables, salads and healthy snacks like hummus.
Use legumes -- beans, peas or lentils -- to make salads or side dishes. They are high in fiber and vitamins and much healthier than sugar-loaded baked beans or calorie-laden mayo-based potato or macaroni salads, Farrell Harris said.
She also suggested using healthy oils and vinegars to add flavor to salads. For example, blend olive with different types of vinegar or lemon juice, or combine rice vinegar and sesame oil.
For snacks, try raw unsalted nuts, marinated olives, hummus, guacamole and sliced vegetables. If you do serve chips, choose baked ones, Farrell Harris said.
For a barbecue, choose lean cuts of meat and trim excess fat. When fat drips on hot coals, it creates smoke that contains potential cancer-causing compounds. Meat with less fat produces less smoke.
Don't char meat and don't eat parts of meat that are black or burned. Those areas contain the highest levels of known cancer-causing chemicals.
Be sure to add vegetables and fruit to the grill. Good choices include red, yellow and green peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, red onions, and pineapple.
The American Heart Association has more about healthy cooking.
SOURCE: AdvantageCare Physicians, news release, June 2014