Diet Detective’s Top Summer Health Tips

by Charles Platkin, PhD

1. Get Lean Abs. There are very few ways to get lean abs quickly, but one change you could make is to reduce your sodium intake. Sodium retains water and thus can give you a bloated feeling. Watch sodium in cereals, soups and other packaged foods. Cereals high in sodium: Raisin Bran: 360 milligrams in 1 cup; General Mills Basic 4: 320 mg in 1 cup; Rice Krispies: 220 mg in 1 1/4 cup; Kellogg’s Smart Start: 280 mg in 1 cup; General Mills Cheerios MultiGrain: 200 mg in 1 cup; Kellogg’s Special K Cereal 220 mg in 1 cup.

Looking for a few ab exercises? Check out the American Council on Exercise’s fitness library of abdominal exercises.

2. Spice It Up. Want to add some pep to your weight-loss routine? It may be as simple as tossing a few hot peppers onto your next salad or burrito. Capsaicin, a compound found in cayenne and jalapeño peppers, is suspected of stimulating metabolism by increasing the body’s release of certain stress hormones, such as adrenaline. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition investigated peppers’ effects on a group of Japanese women. The researchers’ findings showed a 30 percent increase in the women’s metabolism after eating a meal that included capsaicin-rich peppers. In another study reported in the Journal of Proteome Research, scientists fed high-fat diets with or without capsaicin to rats. The capsaicin-treated rats lost 8 percent of their body weight and showed changes in their levels of at least 20 key proteins found in fat. In addition, foods with capsaicin help you break a sweat, and the perspiration then helps you to lower your body temperature ­ which is why people who live in hot climates often eat hot spicy foods.

3. Watch the Burned Meat. According to a study done at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, “HCAs form when muscle meats, such as beef, pork, poultry or fish, are cooked at high temperatures. HCAs are products of interaction between amino acids, which are the foundation of proteins, and the chemical creatine, which is stored in muscles. Past research has identified 17 HCAs that may contribute to cancer. Specifically, people who eat meat that is well done or cooked at high temperatures may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer, according to the study. So make sure not to burn your meat. You also might want to add rosemary to your burgers. According to a recent study in the Journal of Food Science, the addition of rosemary to ground beef actually reduces cancer-causing agents that can form upon cooking.

4. Ice Cream Advisory. Fudgsicles (no sugar added) are a good choice at 40 calories. Frozen yogurt and soft-serve ice cream have the same number of calories per serving — about 140. No-fat yogurt is about 110. Italian ices (100 calories per cup) are a better choice than gelato (about 500 calories per cup). Keep in mind that if you’re going for a cone, you should make it a wafer cone, which has 20 calories, as opposed to a sugar cone that’s 50 or 60 calories or a waffle cone at 100 to 160. Two tablespoons of sprinkles are about 110 calories.

5. Hike or Walk. Check out the following websites to get started:

6. Try a Few Water Sports. Inland and coastal waterways occupy 181,518 square miles of the United States, which means a lot of the country’s beach territory comes from our lakes, rivers and even ponds. A day at the beach, whether it be by the ocean or a lake, can provide a lot more exercise than you’d think, so long as you don’t spend the whole time on your towel.

Try these beach/water sports and burn calories:

Beach volleyball: 560 calories per hour; Frisbee: 210 calories per hour; Ultimate Frisbee (sort of like soccer, football and rugby with a flying disc): 560 calories per hour; Bodysurfing: 212 calories; Kadima (beach paddle tennis): 240 calories; Kayaking: 352 calories; Canoeing: 211 to 490 calories; Rowing: 492 calories; Water-skiing: 422 calories; Snorkeling: 352 calories; Water polo: 703 calories; Water volleyball: 211 calories.

7. How about Going for a Swim? Leisurely swimming burns 422 calories per hour, but if you really push it and swim the butterfly stroke you can get up to 773 calories per hour. Even treading water can burn 281 calories per hour.

8. Jog in the Water. Yes, jogging in the water burns 562 calories per hour. Get yourself an Aquabilt Treadmill, drop it in your pool (It weighs less than 50 pounds) and start working out. This underwater treadmill, which was originally developed for athletes recovering from injury, offers an amazing low-impact workout. It’s non-motorized and simulates real walking motion. And since water has 12 times the density of air, resistance is greater than on a traditional land treadmill, which means that the effort and calories expended per minute are significantly greater, and results come that much more quickly.

9. Thirsty? We often mistake thirst for hunger, especially during the warm summer months. Don’t eat when what you really want is to drink. Always ask yourself if you are really hungry. And if you are thirsty, the best drinks are water, club soda, flavored iced coffee or unsweetened iced tea. Want something a bit stronger? Try this low-calorie drink recipe by Lisa Lillien, author of Hungry Girl Happy Hour: 75 Recipes for Amazingly Fantastic Guilt-Free Cocktails and Party Foods (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010).

Kickin’ Key Lime Pie Martini (makes 1 serving)

Per Serving (entire recipe, 1 martini): 129 calories; 0 g fat; 21 mg sodium; 7 g carbs; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugars; 0 g protein.

1 1/2 ounces lime vodka
1 ounce sugar-free calorie-free vanilla-flavored syrup
1 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 tablespoon Cool Whip Free, thawed
Optional garnish: lime slice

Combine ingredients in a glass and stir until smooth. Transfer to a shaker filled with ice.

Shake thoroughly and then strain into a large martini glass. If you like, finish it off with a slice of lime on the rim of the glass. Enjoy!

10. Exercising In the Heat? According to Dr. James Muntz, an internist with The Methodist Hospital in Houston, you should watch for the following signs and conditions:

  • Make sure you are sweating properly. If you stop sweating when you are exercising you are dehydrated.
  • If you realize your pulse rate in the morning is 10 to 15 beats higher than your normal rate, you should take the day off from exercising. Normal pulse rate is around 70-90 beats minute.
  • Get acclimated to the heat as you begin an exercise regimen. Start off with 15 minutes and slowly work your way up to 45 minutes or an hour.
  • Forget about the “no pain, no gain” mantra. Recognize warning signs and take the appropriate action immediately.
  • Avoid exercising between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the hottest part of the day.
  • Don’t try to diet by sweating. It will only result in water loss, not true weight loss.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and sunscreen.

11. Barbecues and Picnics. For frankfurters, the best toppings are sauerkraut, good old ketchup, mustard and relish. Stay away from cheesy sauces and chili. As for burgers, make your own using the leanest beef you can find and toss in veggies such as mushrooms, onions and peppers to increase nutrients and lower the calorie content without reducing the volume. Watch out for barbecued ribs: They add up to more than 1,000 calories for six medium ribs. Just one 3.5-ounce fried chicken breast has about 250 calories, and one drumstick with skin has about 200 calories. Pasta salad? For 1 cup, depending on ingredients, you’re looking at 500-650 calories. Use 100 percent whole-wheat pasta and light vinaigrette or low-calorie Italian dressing. Baked beans can be 300 calories per cup. Coleslaw can be more than 350 calories per cup. Use light or nonfat mayonnaise and make the slaw yourself. Use healthy, low-calorie marinades instead of oil and butter to flavor foods. And be careful when using cooking spray on your grill. Spray the grill before you turn it on; otherwise the spray can flare up.

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