The time for a beloved American tradition — Fourth of July barbecuing — is here, but if you're diabetic, you may be wondering what you can eat at this year's get-together. Don't let your diet get in the way of a good time! We promise, you can pile your plate high with diabetic-friendly foods and easily avoid the unhealthy stuff at the same time. Here's how.
Pick Lean Proteins
Cookouts are a great excuse to eat meat, which means you'll definitely consume your needed amount of daily protein — but it's important to eat the right proteins. Stick with leaner meats, such as turkey burgers and grilled chicken or fish (avoid anything fried). Beef hamburgers are fine when eaten sparingly, but spring for lean beef with as little fat as possible. You can also try buffalo, per the National Institutes of Health, but you'll likely pay a little more at the store for it.
Avoid Sugary Sides
Many classic barbecue side dishes are not all that diabetic-friendly, so be particularly careful here. Baked beans are often loaded with brown sugar, and other July Fourth staples include macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, and potato salad, which all pile on the carbs (whether it's in the pasta, potatoes, or sauces).
Go for vegetables in any way you can get them. Pick from a platter of raw broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and celery, but skip the ranch or blue cheese dip to avoid additional calories and fats. Grilled vegetables are also a hit with their vibrant flavors, so consider slicing some bell peppers, yellow or red onions, eggplant, squash, and zucchini, then grilling them in a foil packet.
Say No to Salty and Sweet Seasonings
Whether you're cooking up burgers, hot dogs, or grilled chicken sandwiches, chances are you're going to be using plenty of seasonings and will have a collection of condiments on the table. These may seem like small parts of the meal, but they can impact your health just as much as other popular cookout fare.
Something to be especially aware of is the amount of salt in whatever seasonings you use to dress up your meats and vegetables. People often pick prepackaged barbecue seasonings, but these are often loaded with salt. Check the labels for sodium content, or make your own homemade seasoning mix instead. That way, you control the level of salt. What's more, you can get creative and add healthy seasonings, such as sage, rosemary, or turmeric.
You want to avoid sugar, sometimes noted on ingredients lists as corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup. Ketchup and barbecue sauce are notorious for their high sugar content. Also watch out for trans fats, called partially hydrogenated oils in ingredients lists, because these are known to cause heart problems and may increase your cancer risk, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Overall, check every label for diabetic-friendly ingredients before slathering on that sauce or sprinkling any seasonings on your grilled meats. You may even consider skipping condiments altogether to avoid additional fats, salts, and sugars.
Remember, Your Body Wants Water
It's no secret that summer days get uncomfortably hot, so hydration is vital during a long outdoor cookout. However, many common ways to quench your thirst aren't diabetic-friendly. Soda, fruit juice, lemonade, sweet tea, and alcohol all contain high amounts of sugar and/or carbs. Stick to water instead, or choose noncaloric and low-calorie drinks such as unsweetened tea, sparkling water, or fruit-infused water without added sugar.
It's easy to put together a diabetic-friendly cookout, or to navigate your friends' and family's parties, now that you know which foods to eat and avoid this Independence Day. So kick back, eat some healthful food, and enjoy the fireworks!