Eat Healthy Alfresco

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Which is the better choice and why?

Hamburger or Frankfurter
Hot dogs seem like a better choice, but nobody eats just one. And nobody eats them plain. The best toppings are sauerkraut, good old ketchup, mustard and relish. Stay away from cheesy sauces and chili. Two low-calorie hot dogs (e.g., Healthy Choice Beef Franks) with sauerkraut and mustard but without the buns add up to only 254 calories.

Burgers aren’t so innocent either. Do you know anyone who eats a plain burger? Mayo will add 100 calories per tablespoon! Stick to ketchup, mustard, pickles and veggies for extra flavor. Make your own burger using the leanest beef you can find and toss in veggies like mushrooms, onions and peppers to increase nutrients and lower the calorie content without reducing the volume. Go bunless to save yourself even more calories and carbs. Eating your burger with a fork and knife will also prevent you from scarfing it down and then wanting another one a minute later. Save even more calories with a four-ounce turkey burger (130 calories, 0.5g fat, 0g carbs, 28g protein) or a Gardenburger (110 calories, 5g fat, 6g carbs, 12g protein).

  • Plain hamburger (1/4 pound) on bun: 447 calories, 22g fat, 32g carbs, 27g protein
  • Plain frankfurter on bun: 260 calories, 16g fat, 20g carbs, 9g protein
  • Healthy Choice Beef Frank: 70 calories, 2.5g fat, 7g carbs, 6g protein
  • Ball Park Bun Size Smoked White Turkey Frank: 45 calories, 0g fat, 5g carbs, 6g protein


  • Sauerkraut (1 cup): 27 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbs, 1g protein
  • Heinz Ketchup (2 tablespoons): 30 calories, 0g fat, 8g carbs, 0g protein
  • Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard (2 tablespoons): 30 calories, 0g fat, 0g carbs, 0g protein
  • Sargento Fancy Shredded Cheese, Mild Cheddar (1/4 cup): 110 calories, 9g fat, 1g carbs, 7g protein
  • Sweet relish (2 tablespoons): 30 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbs, 0g protein

Coleslaw or Baked Beans
Baked beans might be slightly higher in calories, but they’re lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber. The problem is, baked beans are made with added sugar or molasses. Instead, make your own bean salad. Choose your favorite beans, chop up an onion and some peppers, add a little lemon juice and vinegar for flavor, and you’ve got a nutrient-packed side dish!

  • Coleslaw (1/2 cup): 135 calories, 12g fat, 7g carbs, 1g protein
  • Baked beans (1/2 cup): 150 calories, 1g fat, 29g carbs, 7g protein
  • Bean salad (1/2 cup): 73 calories, 0g fat, 14g carbs, 4g protein

Caesar Salad or Macaroni Salad
Veggies versus pasta sounds like a no-brainer. But even though macaroni salad is usually made with mayo, Caesar salad typically has egg, cheese and sometimes mayo or oil. The calories don’t lie:

  • Caesar salad (1 cup): 302 calories, 28g fat, 3g carbs, 10g protein
  • Macaroni salad (1 cup): 269 calories, 9g fat, 43g carbs, 6g protein

The Caesar dressing alone has 25 grams of fat! Your best option is to avoid both and stick with a regular garden salad and nonfat dressing.

But an even better bet would be cucumber or beet salad made with sliced onion, vinegar, salt, pepper and just a tiny bit of sugar or Splenda.

  • Cucumber salad (1 cup): 48 calories, 0g fat, 12g carbs, 1g protein

Cornbread, Biscuits or Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob is the clear winner if you avoid butter and use a margarine spray instead (1 ear with 10 sprays: 69 calories). Biscuits are typically made with tons of butter or shortening, so if you’re looking for something doughy, stick with cornbread.

  • Corn with butter (1 ear with 2 tablespoons of butter): 263 calories, 24g fat, 14g carbs, 2g protein
  • Homemade cornbread (1 piece, 65g): 184 calories, 6g fat, 28g carbs, 4g protein
  • Homemade buttermilk biscuit (63g): 224 calories, 10g fat, 28g carbs, 4g protein

Minestrone or Chili
No contest here. Bring your minestrone soup in a thermos, and don’t forget bowls and spoons! Even if you add a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese (20 calories), minestrone still has fewer calories than chili.

  • Minestrone (1 cup): 233 calories, 13g fat, 22g carbs, 9g protein
  • Chili (1 cup): 321 calories, 14g fat, 27g carbs, 22g protein

PB&J or Ham and Cheese
Your basic peanut butter and jelly is the better choice. Or if you keep it down to just two slices of ham and one slice of cheese, the ham and cheese wins in terms of calories (314 calories, 14g fat, 28g carbs, 21g protein). But don’t forget that peanut butter is a great source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, while ham and cheese both contain unhealthy saturated fat.

If you’re picking up your sandwiches at the deli, watch out! One slice of cheese normally contains about 85 calories and seven grams of fat, four of which are saturated, and delis typically use three to five slices on a sandwich. Other deli items you don’t want to bring on your picnic include high-fat meats like bacon, bologna, salami, pimiento loaf and sausage.

  • PB&J sandwich (2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 tablespoon jelly): 381 calories, 19g fat, 45g carbs, 14g protein
  • Ham and cheese sandwich (4 slices ham, 3 slices cheese): 576 calories, 31g fat, 32g carbs, 42g protein

Wine or Light Beer
Ounce for ounce, light beer is lower in calories. But most people will drink the whole 12-ounce bottle, whereas they might drink only a few ounces of wine (plus, with wine you get the purported protective benefits against heart disease and cancer).

  • Bud Light (12 ounces): 110 calories, 6.6g carbs
  • Red wine (5 ounces): 106 calories, 3g carbs

Brownie or Apple Pie
You might think apple pie sounds better for you (and your waistline) than a delectable fat-drenched brownie. Think again. They both can pack on the pounds. Try No Pudge Brownie mixes (, made with yogurt, and cut your calories by more than half. Or how about a baked apple made with Splenda and cinnamon (80 calories) or a fruit salad (174 calories for two cups)?

  • Brownie (142g): 580 calories, 23g fat, 88g carbs, 9g protein
  • Apple Pie (169g): 550 calories, 31g fat, 66g carbs, 4g protein
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