Some of the best parts of summer are edible — and hey, no one's complaining.
But sometimes, indulging can interfere with your health: Even eating even small amounts of certain foods can harm your body and digestion in small but potentially cumulative ways, according to registered dietitian Monica Auslander, founder of in Coral Gables, Florida. It's why you should consider avoiding (or completely eliminating) the following summer foods:
1. Charred Meats, Chicken, and Fish
In what may be the biggest barbecue buzzkill E-V-E-R: Animal proteins cooked at high temperatures (i.e., directly over an open flame on a gas or charcoal grill, but also in pan frying and in some broilers) develop chemicals that can of certain cancers when ingested. While the kind of protein and its cooking time determine the degree of danger, all signs suggest the more of this stuff that ends up in your food, the worse it is for your health. And the more often you eat affected food, the greater the hazard.
"You certainly don't need meat, or really any animal meat, every day, from a nutritional perspective," says Auslander, who — FWIW — isn't some sort of angry vegan. (You can meet your daily protein needs with vegetarian proteins too.)
Instead, eat: Grilled veggies — they won't morph into toxins no matter how you cook them. And if you can't possibly imagine summer without burgers on the grill? Lean towards lean cuts to avoid flame flare-ups caused by fat drippings; cook smaller, thinner cuts of meat to reduce cooking time; and marinate meat before cooking, which is to reduce chemical formation, according to .
You should also keep your grill below 300 degrees, flipping food frequently — and take it off the grill as soon as it reaches the : 145 degrees for fish and steak, 160 degrees for burgers and pork, and 165 degrees for poultry to avoid getting sick.
2. Hot Dogs
Processed meats like hot dogs may be even more offensive to your health than plain grilled meats: The (WHO) recognizes a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between colorectal cancer and eating anything that masquerades as food in sausage casing. (There's a probable, but not definitive, link between processed meats and stomach cancer too.)
Besides hot dogs, this warning extends to any animal product that's been salted, cured, or smoked — so hot dogs as well as deli meats like salami, ham, and turkey are generally no good. The warnings also apply to "nitrate-free" meat products, which are preserved with alternative ingredients like celery juice, or smoked — even though knows whether these workarounds make meats any safer than the dirty water dogs that gave you life throughout your childhood.
And just to put things in perspective the next time a BBQ hot dog tempts you: The WHO classifies processed meats in the same category as asbestos and tobacco. (So yeah, they're serious.)
Instead, eat: An unprocessed chicken breast or fish fillet — fresh, unprocessed proteins tend to be the safest bets.
3. Snow Cones
One of these bad boys may cool you down, but that's about all it will do. Besides shaved ice, snow cones are largely made up of syrup made from high fructose corn syrup, simple sugars that will temporarily spike your energy but ultimately stoke your appetite for real food — and food that makes you hungrier kind of defeats its purpose. As if that's not annoying enough, the syrups are full of not-so-natural ingredients like blue no. 1, which really shouldn't qualify as food considering the alarming that links food dyes to cancer, DNA damage, and autoimmune flare-ups. (That goes for all nine in food in the U.S. — so pick your poison.)
Instead, eat: A real fruit popsicle (check the ingredients to confirm), an actual coconut with a straw, or a small serving of gelato — all of which will probably taste better than a sticky slushy snow cone anyway, TBH.
4. Frozen Margaritas and Piña Coladas
If snow cones are bad, frozen cocktails are literally The Worst: They're basically the same thing plus booze — so it's hardly an elixir of health. (Even cocktails made using fresh juice often contain added sugars and will serve up tons of calories that you'd be better off eating.) Auslander, who also warns that alcohol, in general, increases the appetite, slows your metabolism, inhibits nutrient absorption, and leads to poor eating decisions. ("Tipsy people order cheese fries," Auslander says.) If you're still intent on getting a buzz, trust — there's a better way.
Instead, drink: A clear spirit (vodka or gin) with club soda and a squeezed lemon — because it's free of sugar calories. Just swish with plain water after drinking any citrus-infused cocktail to prevent the acids from breaking down tooth enamels, suggests Lawrence Hier, MD, a South Florida-based orthodontist and associate clinical professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
5. Bottled Cocktails
Even a pretty pink label can't hide the extraneous ingredients (often billed as "additional ingredients" or "artificial color" on the ) in premixed cocktails.
Instead, drink: A simple vodka on the rocks with real muddled fruit (like strawberries) for a fruity flavor. And a paper umbrella for a ~festive~ touch.
6. Corn on the Cob
Because running your teeth down the cob to break off kernels can lodge debris between them, and trigger gum inflammation and the accumulation of plaque, just thinking about eating corn on the cob is enough to keep an dentist up at night, according to Dr. Hier.
But it's the corn itself that concerns Auslander: "It's high in carbohydrates and calories, and it contains less B vitamins, iron, fiber, and other minerals than starchy alternatives like potatoes — with more sugar."
Instead, eat: Popcorn. When you pop corn, every kernel takes up more space so one serving looks huge but actually contains fewer kernels (and calories and sugar) than regular corn. Auslander approves so long as you stick with unflavored organic varieties. (She tosses popcorn with avocado oil, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, and nutritional yeast to infuse it with healthy fats, flavor, and nutrients.) And when real corn is on the menu? Just hack it off the cob before you eat it — and go easy on whatever creamy condiment — often some combination of butter, mayo, or cheese — it's served with.
7. Whole Watermelon Seeds
While they're not toxic or anything, swallowing watermelon seeds can obstruct your bowels, according to Auslander — and this can discomfort and bloating or worse.
Instead, eat: Seedless watermelon. Or — because watermelon seeds are such an awesome source of healthy fats and protein, plus iron and other essential nutrients — collect and puree discarded seeds to make watermelon butter, a single-ingredient spread that can cost upward of . (It won't cause any physical blockages.)
8. Conventionally Grown Fruits
The more conventionally grown produce you eat, the greater your exposure to pesticides — and emerging evidence suggests potential links between pesticides and , , and in children born to women with high exposure levels.
Instead, eat: Organic fruit. "Don't waste your money on organic bananas or oranges; nothing is penetrating those peels," Auslander says. But "any fruit with a large surface area of exposed skin is a danger zone." Rinsing should be the rule for all produce — and if you can afford to splurge on produce this summer, put your pennies toward organic strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes, all of which top the Environmental Working Group's latest list of filthy produce.
9. Diet Iced Tea
Artificially sweetened drinks might not have any calories, but that doesn't make them a smart way to satisfy your sweet tooth: Research artificial sweeteners can actually increase your tolerance for sweetness so you want more of it, potentially leading to weight gain (and related health issues) in the long run. Also, drinking sweet stuff makes regular old water seem boring AF, which could lead you to drink less of the liquid your body really needs.
Instead, drink: Unsweetened iced tea with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if you'd like.
10. Sugar-Free Ice Cream
Sugar-free desserts draw the same complaints as artificially sweetened drinks — except the ingredients used to help sugar-free fro-yo resemble the real stuff can cause some unwelcome side effects: Sorbitol and xylitol draw water from the intestines, which can result in diarrhea, while inulin, a sweet-tasting fiber that contributes creaminess in the absence of fat, can cause severe gas and bloating, according to Auslander.
Instead, eat: A small serving of gelato — that's half a cup, or about a small fist's worth of deliciousness that's worth every single calorie.