The Worst Summer Foods for Your Belly
Summer is quickly approaching, which means it's time to fire up the grill, go for a dip in the pool, visit the closest beach, and work up a sweat outside of the gym. As you start to spend more time outdoors soaking in that natural vitamin D, you likely want to make sure you're looking and feeling your best. Especially if you're been super focused on reaching any weight-loss goals you set for yourself.
Keeping that beach bod you've worked hard for in tip-top shape isn't necessarily the easiest, though, when you're constantly being surrounded by foods that make you feel bloated, contribute to belly fat, and disrupt your gut microbiome.
But there is something you can do about it: Avoid the summer foods you know are bad for your belly and overall weight loss goals.
You'll find the usual inflammatory, bloat-inducing, digestion-disrupting suspects on this list that are filled with grease, sodium, and sugar. Others are nothing more than empty calories that will cause you to eat more since they're not satisfying. There are also some surprising "healthy" foods that can lead to instant bloating, making you uncomfortable immediately after eating. That's not exactly a welcome feeling when you're lounging around all day in a swimsuit trying to work on your tan.
Without further ado, here are 50 of the worst summer foods. (And why not stock up on The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now while you're at it?)
When you're laying out at the beach all day and you take a stroll on the boardwalk, you might be tempted to grab a quick slice of cheesy and sauce-filled goodness, but pizza is not a food that will keep your belly flat in the summer. The grease is bound to leave you feeling bloated, and that's not counting all the sodium in pepperoni or another meat-topped slices.
During the summer months, it's hard to not find yourself at a BBQ or picnic where potato salad is served up, but even only a few spoonfuls of this side dish are drowning in mayonnaise. Mayo is a condiment made with vegetable oils—either corn, palm, safflower, soy, sunflower oil—which are all high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Eating too many of these inflammatory foods can offset the balance of good bacteria in your belly, leading to countless health problems from weight gain to skin problems.
Another summer staple? Funnel cakes, which are deep-fried and covered with powdered sugar. While yes, delicious, they aren't doing your belly any favors if you down one of these while you're in a swimsuit. Fried foods take longer to digest, so this is one meal that will be sitting in your stomach for quite some time.
Cobblers are 100% a summer dessert, but before you go digging into that blueberry or peach cobbler, you might want to slow down. See, chowing down on this sweet treat means you're just ingesting tons of sugar, plus it's usually paired with ice cream. As many people suffer from lactose intolerance, dairy is another food group that you should generally avoid when you're trying to keep your belly flat at the beach.
OK, we get it: You're not breaking out a warm bowl of chili on a hot day. But the one-two combo of chili and cheese usually finds its way onto boardwalk staples, such as hot dogs and French fries. This meat-and-cheese combination is something to avoid. Most likely, the meat and cheese you'll be served are both processed and filled with preservatives, which all contribute belly fat—not aiding in keeping you flat.
Seafood gets its time to shine in the summer, and a lobster roll feels decadent. Again, you're getting all that fish slathered in mayo. Along with the thick bun and side of butter, your stomach is going to look and feel overly full.
Now, we're not saying every cereal is a no-go, but many of the favorites from your childhood that are easy, on-the-go foods you can grab on your way out for a day in the sun are also some of the unhealthiest cereals because they're loaded with sugar. Inflammatory sugar can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar, causing you to seek out more food soon after eating, which can leave your belly distended for hours.
Nachos are a quick meal you can easily munch on in-between going for a swim, but "nacho cheese" isn't a real cheese. Pairing this processed sauce with chips creates a sodium bomb that will leave you bloated.
Chicken nuggets and tenders are always sold in close proximity to a beach or pool, thanks to boardwalks and concession stands, but that doesn't mean you should chow down on them if your goal is to keep your belly flat. They're fried and filled with fats and carbs that won't have you feeling light and refreshed on a hot day.
There's no denying that dark chocolate does have plenty of health benefits, but when it comes to keeping your tummy flat, you might want to skip out on eating a bar since chocolate has been linked to constipation. A study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology asked a group of people dealing with constipation what foods they thought were to blame for their stomach issues, and chocolate came out on top.
Dairy doesn't cause everyone to bloat, but if you happen to have a lactose sensitivity, drinking a milkshake on a summer day will cause your waistline to expand. And even for those who can easily digest dairy, milkshakes are loaded with ice cream, chocolate, whipped cream, and other toppings that pile on the sugar and calories—so you're not in the clear! Plus, a study found that drinking milkshakes negatively impacted blood vessels, with participants unable to process blood through their red blood cells as easily. So, on top of ruining your beach body, milkshakes could mess with your blood flow, too. No thanks!
Gum seems harmless, but as you're chewing gum, you're swallowing more air, which—you guessed it!—leads to bloating. Goodbye, flat tummy.
If you eat some eggs before you plan on rocking a bathing suit, there's a chance your belly won't be as flat as you hope. Eggs are a food that could leave you constipated, and when your stomach is unsettled, you'll be full of gas.
You're going to want to wait for this fruit to get yellow before you eat some while you're working on your tan. Green, unripe bananas are high in tannins, which make you constipated, as well as high in FODMAPs, undigestible carbohydrates that can leave you bloated.
This morning sweet treat will have your belly anything but flat. They're fried, so not only are they adding inches to your waistline, and it's no secret they're loaded with sugar, which is inflammatory. Skip starting your beach day with one of these!
Tomatoes are rather refreshing and pair well with many summer favorites, but they cause the body to produce gastric acid, which may cause acid reflux. Once again, your stomach isn't going to be flat when it's under distress.
Being out in the sun can drain you, but don't think about turning to an energy drink for a pick-me-up if you want to keep your stomach flat and stay properly hydrated. Sipping on one of these caffeinated drinks will dehydrate you, and when you're dehydrated, this can lead to constipation, which will leave your stomach full and unable to digest properly. Plus, when you're dehydrated, your body tends to hold on to every drop of water weight that it can, which makes you look puffier than you actually are.
Grabbing a quick, sweet snack like a cookie is a no-go for your belly. Cookies are simply filled with sugar and unhealthy fats, and processed foods will add inches to your waistline.
When it comes to digestion, apples are fruit highly fibrous, so your stomach might just fill up and get puffy.
Fast food is simply hard to digest since it's high in grease and fat. And it's usually high in unhealthy fats like saturated and even trans fats, which are inflammatory. If you want to show off your abs at the beach, skip making a pit stop at the drive-thru.
Think about how you feel after eating broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale. If the first word that comes to mind is "bloated," then you're like most of us. "Humans don't possess the enzyme to break down raffinose, a complex sugar commonly found in cruciferous vegetables," clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta, CN, MS says. "So when these vegetables get to the lower intestine, they're fermented by bacteria and produce methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, which leads to gas."
Think twice before you stuff that big bag of chips into your beach bag. A Harvard study found that daily chip consumption was responsible for adding an average of 3.3 pounds to the study participants' frame every four years. When you're heading to the beach, the last thing you want to do is eat foods that are adding more flab, especially since not being able to stop after one potato chip is very real.
We're big fans of coffee on the reg (hey, it's a low-cal pick-me-up that can even help curb a distracting appetite!), but it's better off to skip your cup o' joe before the beach. According to a study in the journal Gut, "Coffee has been shown to promote the release of gastrin, which can increase colonic spike and motor activity." That basically means the java will result in you having to hit the bathroom way more often, and we all know how hard it is to find a clean public bathroom at the beach.
Just like coffee, tea acts as a diuretic, which will make your body expel salt and water, resulting in dehydration. Dehydration + sun's rays = definitely not a good mix! If you just can't go without your caffeine fix, make sure to drink lots of water along with it.
Spinach is a wonderfully nutritious addition to your go-to summer salad, but not if you're planning to hit the beach with your buds. This raw leafy green packs in a solid dose of soluble fiber and oligosaccharides, both of which can lead to serious bloat. Alternatively, blend a handful of spinach into your a.m. smoothie or sauté it with some garlic and olive oil—both preparations will help break down these bloat-inducing fibers.
It's sweet, salty, and portable, which makes this snack a great craving buster; but your typical dried fruit and nut trail mix is actually filled with bloat-inducing sugar and salt. Researchers at the University of Kansas discovered that about 50% of people report experiencing gas from fructose, the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits. Instead, make your own mix by being skimpy on the dehydrated fruit and choosing unsalted nuts for an unadulterated punch of protein and fiber.
It can be very tempting to swap regular old H2O for soda or even sparkling water, but that's definitely not your best bet. While the carbonation makes your drink a little more exciting, it'll cause you to bloat like a pufferfish. Make sure to fill up on plain water instead, especially because the more hydrated you are, the less fluid you'll retain (aka, you won't bloat!).
Floating your way toward the swim-up bar seems like a good idea when you're on vacation, but you're better off skipping the umbrella-clad alcoholic treats. Alcohol causes you to retain water, plus many mixed drinks like frozen margaritas and piña coladas are calorie and sugar bombs, so they're obviously a no-go when it comes to belly fat.
Coming from someone who's guilty of chasing down the ice cream truck, it's safe to say that this creamy treat is usually not worth the cals. Plus, the lactose in dairy ice cream can cause bloating, gas, and an overall uncomfortable stomach situation—even if you aren't lactose intolerant.
Charred Meats and Fish
Charring your animal protein at super high temperatures has been linked to possibly being carcinogenic since this cooking process creates chemicals called heterocyclic amines. Is a scorched burger really worth that risk? We definitely don't think so. Make sure your dinner avoids a high open flame or just grill your veggies, which won't develop these toxins. If you really can't forgo burgers on the barbie, opt for lean cuts of meat that won't excrete fat and cause flame flare-ups or go for thin cuts of meat to shorten cooking time. Another thing to note: Marinating your meats in beer hours before grilling decreased the carcinogenic compounds by as much as 68%, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Red wine works, too!
Hot dogs land on our list of worst summer foods because they're packed with bloat-inducing sodium and nitrates that link these dogs to colorectal cancer. Find out what's really in your hot dog before you chow down on one.
Forget sticking the deli meat sandwiches into your beach cooler. "High sodium foods like deli meats, bacon, and cheeses cause water retention," Kristen Carlucci Haase, RD says. "And that bloating and extra water weight can make cellulite more visible."
Corn on the Cob
"Not all types of carbs are easy to digest," registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN says. "And corn contains a type of carbohydrate that is difficult for the body to break down. This can lead to GI bacteria fermentation and trapped air and gas, which causes bloating." Beach day and bloated belly are two things that should never be in the same sentence.
Whether you're opting for a giant soft pretzel at the county fair or a handful of crunchy minis, either pick isn't ideal. While pretzels often seem like a better choice than oily potato chips, they're usually not! These twisted treats are made up of sodium and carbs—two ingredients that won't help your abs peek out anytime soon.
Because dried fruits, like Craisins, have been stripped of their hydrating and filling water, they have way more sugar per ounce than their fresh or even frozen counterparts. To keep your tummy tight, grab your cooler and pack in the non-dehydrated variety for a refreshing afternoon snack. If you want to get specific, we're talking about these hydrating foods.
Skip the Pinot Grigio this summer because studies show that certain alcohols, such as white wines, increase your chances of getting Melanoma! Why's that? White wine eliminates vitamins and antioxidants that help your body fend off the sun's cancer-causing rays. And if you drink seven or more glasses a week, your chances of becoming the sun's victim increase. Stick to antioxidant-rich red wine instead.
Before you light up the grill, stick to seasoning your meats with a spice rub rather than sugar-filled BBQ sauce. For reference: A small, two-tablespoon serving of Sweet Baby Ray's contains a whopping 16 grams of sugar! If you must slather your wings in the tangy stuff, make sure your BBQ sauce doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup, an additive proven to widen your waistline.
If you like heading to the beach in the summer, you know that PB&J is a shore staple. That being said, choose your loaf wisely. Loaves like Wonder Bread and country white varieties are just slices of empty carbs that are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and devoid of fiber. Ezekiel bread, on the other hand, is a delicious fiber- and protein-packed alternative that will also keep you fuller for much longer.
The classic state fair treat. Obviously what's behind the batter is pretty bad, but corn dogs make our list specifically due to their deep-fried component: "When we deep fry foods, we expose the oil and fat to extremely high temperatures. When this happens, free radicals, the primary culprit in aging, are formed," says Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. "These foods not only cause damage to our waistlines but to our organs and insides, as well."
Unless you're choosing a light beer, pass on this super carbonated and caloric beverage. It will leave you bloated, and it will also load you up with empty calories and dehydrate you, making you more apt to suffer from heatstroke. If you do want to grab one or two cold ones, throw back any of these 15 Best Light Beers In America rather than compromising in the name of weight loss.
Throwing some sausage on the grill? You may want to think twice. We already know that processed meats are packed with potentially carcinogen-forming sodium nitrites, and pork sausage is definitely not an exception. You'll want to choose uncured cuts of meat (you can even stick with pork, if you'd like!) to steer clear of those toxin-forming nitrites.
What's a summer cookout without a delicious pasta salad? While this side dish is essential for some, it's better to swap regular old noodles for some that are protein- and fiber-packed like Modern Table Lentil Penne or Banza pasta, which is made from chickpeas. Both options are so yummy that no one will be able to tell the difference!
If you took one look at their ingredient list, you may think twice about picking up a package of Popsicles for your pool party. Popsicle brand ices have high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes high up on the ingredient list, which means that these treats aren't flat belly-friendly. Equally refreshing alternatives Outshine Fruit and Veggie Bars keep you looking and feeling your best. These natural ices are only 35 calories a pop and are made with juices and purées from apples, beets, carrots, cranberries, pumpkins, rhubarb, and strawberries. Yum!
They may be a staple at any summer barbeque, but sandwich toppers like Kraft American Singles aren't real cheese (shocker!), so skip adding them to your burgers pronto. These fake products are federally mandated to be labeled as "processed cheese" or a "cheese product" because of their manufacturing process. They begin with a mere 51% real cheese; throw in some artificial fillers, flavors, colors, preservatives, emulsifiers, acidifiers; heat it all up; then bundle it into those nostalgic packages. If your cheese craving needs an antidote, opt for 100% real cheese, and scale back your portion to an ounce.
This one's a given: Starchy potatoes fried in fat-forming oil and doused salt are just an all-around bad idea if you're looking to uncover your abs . . . let alone live long. While a good burger is usually incomplete without a side of crispy potato strings, you're better off fulfilling your fry fix by whipping up a batch of grilled or baked veggies topped with basil oil.
While watermelon seeds are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, swallowing the kernels whole can block your bowels, leading to unnecessary pain and discomfort.
During the summer, we know we all have way more time to cook up some bacon in the mornings. This popular breakfast meat gets a bad rap due to its high fat and sodium content, as well as its harmful additives—all bad news factors for your weight loss goals and overall health.
According to studies, consuming artificial sweeteners can desensitize your taste buds, in turn increasing your sugar tolerance. Even worse, this leads to weight gain. Just because that diet Snapple is luring you in with its super low-calorie count, skip it. You're better off hydrating with naturally sweetened detox waters or choosing a lightly sweetened iced tea.
Think about it: Most granola bars—if not homemade—are filled with carbs, sugar, and vegetable oils. They're basically just another fast-food option. While they're seemingly a healthy grab-and-go snack, these glorified candy bars usually won't satisfy your hunger or help you finally fit into that pair of skinny jeans. Plus, because they're high in carbs, they'll leave you searching through your beach bag for another snack soon after finishing it.
Processed fruit juices are sugar bombs masquerading under a deceiving health halo. Most of the bottled imposters barely contain natural fruit juice and are loaded with tons of the saccharine carb. Not to mention, sugar actually decreases your body's ability to produce collagen, the compound responsible for keeping your skin taut and cellulite-free in a swimsuit.