By Erin Sund
Every summer Americans flock to beaches to get away from it all. Unfortunately, poor nutrition, lack of hydration and fierce sunburn can leave you wiped out after a supposedly relaxing beach day. Make the most of your hard-earned rest time by giving your beach day a healthy makeover.
Bring Healthy Snacks
Beachside cafes and hot dog stands aren't typically known for their variety of healthy options. Save money and eat right by bringing snacks with you. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Judy Caplan, MS, RDN, recommends beach-day eats:
- Raw or dry-roasted nuts
- Pre-washed and cut fruit and veggies
- Whole-grain crackers
- Whole-grain cookies (try oatmeal raisin or whole-wheat chocolate chip)
- Wasabi peas
- Dried, sugar-free ginger
- Dried mixed fruit
If you do purchase food at the beach, avoid high-fat burgers and fries, and look for healthy vegetarian options. "More beach restaurants have options like hummus, guacamole and veggie dogs," says Caplan. Also look for tasty choices like grilled corn on the cob (drizzled with hot sauce instead of butter), fruit popsicles, low-fat frozen yogurt topped with fresh fruit, baked chips, grilled chicken salads, sandwiches on whole-grain bread and low-calorie, low-fat fruit smoothies.
When packing a cooler for the beach, don't forget plenty of water! Refresh yourself on a hot day with a thermos of cold water and ice with lemon or mint. If you crave something fizzy, trade soda for calorie-free sparkling water.
Protect Your Food
A beach day is relaxing; a bout of food poisoning is anything but. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in six Americans get sick from foodborne diseases each year. Pack your beach snacks cautiously and don't leave food sitting out for longer than two hours, or one hour once the temperature hits 90°F.
Before you pack for your day at the beach, give your cooler and tote a thorough cleaning. "Always start with a clean cooler rinsed out with a bleach solution to kill any lingering bacteria that can grow in hot temperatures," says Caplan. "Also wash reusable bags on a regular basis to avoid bacteria growth. Remember to wash and store utensils so [you don't contaminate] the remaining food. If there is no water, bring extra baggies to keep things separate."
Pack your cooler with plenty of ice if you're bringing perishable foods to the beach. Your cooler must maintain food at a temperature of 40°F or lower. "Carry a thermometer in the cooler," says Caplan. If possible, store coolers in the shade.
If you're cooking out at the beach, follow these dos and don'ts:
- Do use different plates and utensils to handle raw meat and cooked meat.
- Do bring a meat thermometer to make sure grilled meats reach a safe internal temperature (160°F for hamburgers, 165°F for chicken).
- Don't start cooking meat, store it and then finish it later on the grill (this causes bacteria to multiply).
- Don't thaw frozen meat in the sun. Defrosting in a fridge or a microwave are the only safe options.
Some beaches don't have facilities with running water, so pack hand sanitizer and use it before and after eating or cooking food. Also, bring some empty bags for your garbage—don't leave your trash on the beach!
Don't get so caught up playing in the water that you forget to drink water. Summer heat combined with swimming exertion can leave you dehydrated. You may not notice that you're sweating when you're in and out of the water.
"Drink water throughout the day; don't wait until you are thirsty," says Caplan. "Stay ahead of [your] thirst; eat foods that contain lots of water like fresh fruit and veggies." Watermelon is a great snack for a summer day at the beach.
A cold beer may sound appealing on a hot day, but drink cautiously and in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol and swimming is dangerous. "Studies show that consuming alcohol and then swimming is the cause of many drowning deaths," says Caplan. Alcohol also is a mild diuretic, increasing urine output, which can hasten dehydration. Dehydration warning signs include:
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Decreased urine output
- Sleepiness or tiredness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking water, but if you experience more severe symptoms (extreme thirst, lack of sweat or tears, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, weakness or delirium), call 911. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency.
Enjoy a healthy day at the beach—fuel your body with nutrient-rich snacks, practice food safety and stay hydrated. Finally, don't forget the sunscreen!
Reviewed April 2013
Erin Sund is an online content manager for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.