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Stanford nutrition expert offers tips for a healthy and happy Fourth of July

watermelon_070313For many of us, Fourth of July traditions are closely tied to food and fireworks. We look forward to chowing down on dad's famous smoked brisket, mom's homemade potato salad and aunt Sally's delectable strawberry shortcake before kicking back and watching the local fireworks show.

But this year consider taking a healthier approach to celebrating Independence Day. Below Thomas Robinson, MD, a Stanford pediatrician and director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, offers these suggestions on how to enjoy the holiday while still being health conscious:

Healthy options to hydrate

A lot of people believe they are giving their children the benefits of eating whole fruit when give them 100 percent fruit juice. Unfortunately, juice drinks, including 100 percent fruit juice, are really no better than soda and other sugar drinks. A 12-ounce glass of fruit juice usually contains 10 or more teaspoons of sugar and lacks most of the beneficial nutrients and fiber that you get by eating whole fruit. The same principle holds true for sports drinks. Although advertised to replace electrolytes for athletes, they are packed with sugar, usually at least 5 teaspoons or more in 12 ounces. Almost nobody needs them. The best and most refreshing drink for kids and adults alike on hot summer days is water. I suggest you:

  • Avoid fruit juices and eat the whole fruit instead.
  • Drink water rather than “sports” drinks.
  • Drop the TV remote, mouse or joystick and get yourself and your family outside.

Take a healthier approach to holiday barbeques

Additionally, little planning can make your Fourth of July barbeque more healthful for your family. If you are going to grill hamburgers, hot dogs and such, go light on the number and size of servings and portions. Instead of only meats, start a new summer tradition and grill zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, artichokes,  corn on the cob or vegetable shish kabobs.

Include a green salad or fruit salad to go with your barbeque. Go light on or avoid the chips and fill up with cut vegetables, such as carrot, celery and jicama sticks, broccoli tree tops and cucumber and zucchini spears. Instead of cake, cookies or other fat and sugar-laden deserts, enjoy the wonderful variety of fresh whole fruit available in the summer. In most regions of the country, this is a great time of year for sweet peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, berries and melons. One way to make healthy deserts fun is to cut up a watermelon and hold a seed-spitting contest.

Make new memories and forge family traditions with outdoor activities

One of the best things about summer holidays is the opportunity to get your family outside, away from the TV, computer and video games. Kick the kids outside and, if you can, do something together as a family. Make it quality family time by doing outside activities together. Ride bikes, hike, head to the beach or the pool, plant something in the garden or do chores around the house. Create a new dance step or practice a favorite, go skating or skateboarding, play catch, kick a ball, compete for the number of baskets made in a row. Almost anything outside is a lot more fun than sitting inside, staring at a screen with a remote, mouse or joystick in your hands — for kids and parents alike.

Previously: Sugar intake, diabetes and kids: Q&A with a pediatric obesity expert, Study finds teens who play two sports show notably lower obesity rates and Children and obesity: What can parents do to help?
Photo by Kirti Poddar

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