Sand, Surf and Great Eats

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
surfer drinking water

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 typically aren't known for their variety of nutritious options. Save money and eat right by bringing snacks with you, such as the following:

  • Raw or dry-roasted nuts
  • Pre-washed and cut fruit and veggies
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Wasabi peas
  • Trail mix
  • Dried mixed fruit

If you do purchase food at the beach, avoid high-fat burgers and fries, and look for lower fat vegetarian options. "Many beach restaurants and cafes are catering to consumer demands by offering more healthful choices, including vegetarian options," says Angel Planells, MS, RDN, CD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Consumers can find nourishing and refreshing foods that are jam-packed with nutrients and provide fuel for your body." Also look for tasty choices such as 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 fruit smoothies.

When packing a cooler for the beach, don't forget plenty of water! Refresh yourself on a hot day with a reusable bottle 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 1 in 6 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, washing it out with mild soap and water and rinsing thoroughly. "It is important to thoroughly wash our containers and re-useable bags to remove all food residues and minimize the potential for bacterial growth," says Planells. "If it is dishwasher safe, feel free to toss it in the machine. If not, make sure to thoroughly wash with warm, soapy water and allow to air dry."

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. "We want to keep hot foods hot if grilling and cold foods cold if storing in a cooler," says Planells. "One easy tool to help us know whether our foods are stored or heated properly is a thermometer — keep one in your cooler and also keep another one with your grilling tools." And, if possible, store coolers in the shade.

If you're cooking out at the beach, follow these do's and don'ts:

  • Do use different plates and utensils to handle raw meat and cooked meat.
  • Do bring a food thermometer to make sure grilled meats reach a safe internal temperature (160°F for hamburgers, 165°F for chicken).
  • Don't thaw frozen meat in the sun.
  • Don't start cooking meat, store it and then finish it later on the grill. This causes bacteria to multiply.

Some beaches don't have facilities with running water, so pack hand sanitizer and use it before and after cooking or eating food. Also, bring some empty bags for your garbage — don't leave your trash on the beach!

Stay Hydrated

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.

"Whether you are soaking up rays in a beach chair, building sand castles or playing in the water, drinking fluids and consuming a wide variety of foods can help you remain hydrated when the temperatures rise," Planells says. Watermelon is a great hydrating snack for a summer day at the beach.

A cold beer may sound appealing on a hot day, but drink alcohol cautiously and in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol and swimming is dangerous. "Alcohol consumption can affect our coordination and judgment. Your risk of drowning increases as your blood alcohol concentration rises. Be safe, stay hydrated and limit your intake so you can enjoy the beach another day," Says Planells. Alcohol also is a mild diuretic, increasing urine output, which can hasten dehydration. Dehydration warning signs include:

  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • 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, weakness, breathing rapidly or delirium), call 911 immediately. 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!

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