Sand, Surf and Great Eats

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
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 aren't typically known for their variety of healthy options. Save money and eat right by bringing snacks with you. Former 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
  • Wasabi peas
  • Trail mix
  • 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 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 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 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. "Also wash reusable bags on a regular basis to avoid bacteria growth," says Caplan.

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. 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.

"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 alcohol 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:

  • 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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