8 Healthy Condiments

Condiments
Rice cakes. Cottage cheese. Melba toast. Diet staples bland enough to send you down to Staples to buy some Styrofoam peanuts to add a little flavor to your eating plan. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, if you really want to move the needle on the scale, you’re going to have to cut out a lot of fat, sugar, and sodium, but that doesn’t mean your new regimen of steaming, blanching, and boiling has to condemn you to a life of bland eating. Many condiments can spice up your cuisine without adding any calories, and in some cases, they can even accelerate your weight loss! Here are eight of our favorites.

1. Ketchup
Until recently, ketchup had been the king of the condiments. Americans have found very few meals that couldn’t be improved by being drenched in tomato-ey goodness. And ketchup has quite a number of healthy properties. Remember when the Reagan administration famously classified it as a vegetable in school lunches? OK, maybe that went too far . . . but it is chock-full of lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants around. The only problem is that most brands are also chock-full of sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sugar, which substantially defrays the health benefits of the tomatoes. But more and more ketchup manufacturers are offering low-salt, low-HFCS brands; and if you can get your hands on them, you can drench your favorite meals with nutritional impunity. Or for the culinarily inclined, you can make your own ketchup and add the amount of sugar and salt that is right for you.

2. Mustard
This sharp paste made from the crushed seeds of the mustard plant comes in colors ranging from yellow to brown and in sharpness ranging from tangy to eye-watering. Mustard has practically no calories or fat to speak of, and even if it did, a little goes a long way. After all, it is one of the only condiments to be weaponized. It is worth checking the labels as some are high in sodium and others can add sugar or oil for flavor and texture, but generally, mustard can be consumed guilt free—as much as your palate can handle. There are lots of gourmet varieties with ingredients like horseradish, white wine, or jalapeños added for extra zest.

3. Salsa
In the last decade or so, salsa has overtaken ketchup as the number-one condiment in America. There are literally thousands of different kinds of salsas, though most contain tomatoes, onions, and peppers as their base. Very low in calories and high in flavor, salsas are a great accent to any dish, but as with all commercially prepared items, attention should be paid to the levels of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s a pretty easy thing to make yourself. A simple pico de gallo can be made by combining diced tomatoes and onions with minced cilantro and jalapeño and marinating those ingredients in lime juice. Make a big bowl on Sunday and have a healthy snack or sauce all week long!

4. Hot sauce I can go through two or three bottles of hot sauce a week. My refrigerator door rattles with tall skinny bottles of the stuff and I have been known to excuse myself from the dinner table in order to towel off my face. While many have said that the high levels of capsaicin (the “burning” component in chili peppers) I consume have deadened my taste buds to subtle flavors, I would argue that the hot sauce has opened my palate wide. I pity those who don’t have the iron stomach to withstand the delights offered by habanero, chipotle, and cayenne peppers. A little bit of hot sauce gives a ton of flavor with practically no calories, and the capsaicin is even believed to boost your metabolism. As always, keeping an eye on the sodium content is advisable.

5. Soy sauce
Needless to say, this isn’t a very good part of a low-sodium diet, but there are low-sodium versions available (although low-sodium soy sauce has through-the-roof levels of sodium compared to most other foods). Some studies have shown that soy sauce contains even more antioxidants than red wine and, as a result of the fermentation process used to make it, high levels of probiotics. It doesn’t have all the health benefits found in other soy products like edamame or tofu, but as a substitute for salt as a seasoning, you get a lot more nutritional bang for your buck.

6. Vinegar
Vinegar comes in many different varieties—malt, wine, rice, cider, sherry, balsamic, and on and on. The word itself comes from the French vin aigre, or “sour wine.” But unlike wine, vinegar has no alcohol and, depending on the variety, very few or zero calories. But it does have plenty of zip and tang. I find that a dash to my favorite soup or a sprinkle on my sandwich or salad adds lots of flavor without adding salt, fat, or sugar. In fact, studies have shown that vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and in one study, a test group of people who drank two tablespoons of vinegar before meals showed more weight loss than the group who didn’t.

7. Yogurt
Yogurt has the most calories and potentially the most fat of any of the condiments on this list. Full-fat yogurt, in fact, can have milkfat levels as high as ice cream. But low-fat and nonfat varieties serve as great substitutes for mayonnaise or a creamy dressing without adding too many calories to your dish. And with high levels of L. acidophilus and other probiotics, yogurt can also be very beneficial to your digestive system. Try mixing some plain nonfat yogurt with your favorite herbs or a little mustard or curry as a salad dressing or dipping sauce. Or try goat’s-milk yogurt for some flavor variety.

8. Curry
In different parts of the world curry can mean almost any number of combinations of savory spices. Besides the powder derived from the curry plant, curry powders and paste can contain many spices, including turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. There are commercially prepared curries from all over the world, from India to Thailand to the Caribbean. Keep an eye out for salt and fat content, and you’ll be on your way to giving your sauces, meats, fish, and vegetables a hit of amazing flavor without adding calories.

What and When You Should Eat

Clock
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that matters. The perfect food for one situation may be horrible for another. Nutrient timing is a science that athletes use to try to get the most out of every calorie they consume. Not everyone needs an athlete’s level of efficiency, but all of us will benefit from a basic understanding of nutrient timing.

This is 911, need-to-know info only. To keep you focused on the big picture, I’ll begin with an example at the extreme end of nutrient timing. If the average Joe followed the same diet as an Ironman triathlete, he’d likely have type 2 diabetes in a matter of months. Conversely, if someone tried to complete an Ironman on even the healthiest version of a low-carb diet, that person would either be forced to quit or die. This is not just because either diet would mean eating too much food or too little food. Different foods cause the body’s metabolic process to react in different ways; and various activities should be fueled using various means.

Let’s begin by looking at our possible fuel sources:
Carbohydrates
Are fuel only. They aren’t stored in body tissue, only in the blood and liver as glycogen, which needs to be burnt off. They are essential for high-level functioning like running fast, lifting heavy things, and thinking. They are digested and put to use by your body very quickly. If you eat more than you burn, your body will convert them to be stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

Proteins
Called the body’s building blocks. Hence, you need them to rebuild tissue that breaks down daily. You digest proteins slowly, and at a certain point, your body just can’t assimilate them. Therefore, it’s important that throughout the day you eat foods that are high in protein.

Fats
Help regulate all of your bodily functions. They are dense and contain over twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. While they are vital for our health, it’s easy to eat too much of them, which will result in unwanted fat tissue on your body. You digest fats slowly, and fats will also help slow the digestion of anything else you eat. Fats are also your backup fuel source, though they can’t be put to use right away the way carbs can.

Fiber
Categorized as a carbohydrate, it is not a source of fuel as it has no calories. It’s the indigestible part of a plant and is of vital importance in your diet because it regulates the absorption of the foods you eat. It also helps us feel full. Most of us don’t eat enough fiber, and that’s a big part of the obesity problem.

Alcohol
Not really a food source but something we tend to consume. It has nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (though it lacks fuel) and digests rapidly. Its only healthy function is that it seems to make us happy. Studies indicate this is a good thing, as those who consume alcohol generally live longer than those who don’t, but from a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s not so hot because you’re getting calories without any upside. Its use should be strategic and regulated for best results.

Now let’s look at the various situations we face daily, at least on most days—hopefully.

Relaxing
This is when we’re sedentary both physically and mentally. In a relaxed state, you burn very few calories because your body is engaged as little as possible, hence the relaxing.

Sedentary work
When we’re at work or school. Our bodies aren’t moving, but our brains are engaged. The brain runs on glycogen, which is blood sugar fueled by carbohydrates.

Low-level exercise
Like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or going for a walk. This breaks down body tissue, so you’re burning calories, but it’s not intense work. Therefore, it can be fueled by your stored body fat. Your body tries to fuel its low-level outputs by mobilizing fat stores because this saves its limited glycogen for emergency situations.

High-level exercise
Fueled by glycogen. When you really have to get after it, all sorts of hormones go to work, and your body burns its blood sugar. Body-tissue breakdown is rapid, and your stored blood sugar (glycogen) won’t last much more than an hour.

Sleep
A very active time. Deep sleep is where your body works the hardest to repair itself. You need nutrients to make these repairs, but it’s better if you aren’t mucking up the process with digestion. This is why you hear that you shouldn’t eat too much at night. It’s best to eat early to allow most of the digestion to happen while you’re awake, thus allowing your body to use all its energy for recovery during sleep. It is worth noting here that it’s better to eat before bed if you need the nutrients—don’t skip them. Your body can’t repair itself without nutrients, and recovery from breakdown is why we eat in the first place. Next, let’s take a look at an important word you need to know: insulin.

Insulin
Wikipedia tells us that insulin “is a hormone that has extensive effects on metabolism and other body functions, such as vascular compliance. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source.” Okay, that’s a little scientific, but look at all the things we’ve already referenced: hormone, glycogen, metabolism, and fat as an energy source. Even if you don’t fully comprehend “vascular compliance,” you can tell that insulin is something important in today’s discussion.

Sure enough, it’s the only hundred-dollar word we need to know today. Your body’s insulin response is the main reason you want to eat certain foods at certain times, to do certain things.

Putting it all together
Now let’s take what we’ve just learned and put it to use. For most of us, nutrient timing is pretty simple. The next thing to consider is what you’re going to be doing or what you just did. As I said before, what you eat should be based on this. You’ve probably heard about the evils of sugar, or maybe even the glycemic index. Using the science of nutrient timing, you can turn sugar into something healthy because it’s the only thing that transports nutrients into your blood quickly enough to be of service during and after hard exercise.

Essentially, sugar or other easily digested carbs (the less fiber the better) promote an insulin release. This speeds the transformation of carbohydrates into glucose in your blood. As your glycogen stores are depleted during exercise, recharging them with sugar minimizes the damage done by the breakdown of tissue during exercise. Therefore, sugar, the oft-vilified ingredient, is actually your body’s preferred nutrient during times of excessive stress and tissue breakdown.

Pretty cool, huh? The bad news is that this miracle nutrient is not good for you when you’re not doing intense exercise, which for almost all of us is most of the time. In fact, sugar’s very bad for you because the insulin response that was so fabulous for you when you were bonking (glycogen depleted) is not so fabulous for you when you’re sitting in front of the boob tube.

Remember this from the Wikipedia definition of insulin, “stopping use of fat as an energy source”? That’s bad when you’re sitting around. Remember how one of dietary fat’s responsibilities is to fuel you during low-intensity exercise? Well, when sugar causes your insulin to spike, it cuts off that process. Now not only are you not burning body fat for low-level outputs, you’re trying to force your body to use its glycogen. Double bad.

Unless you’re exercising, sugar intake should be minimized. During these times—which is most of the time—your diet should consist of a mixture of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The latter are natural sources of carbohydrates that generally come with fiber, which regulates the insulin response. Whole fruit, a simple carbohydrate by definition because it contains fructose (a sugar), always contains fiber and, thus, can be treated as a complex carb. Fruit juice, and other such stuff, is processed; it, along with processed complex carbohydrates like white rice, can cause an insulin response, so these types of foods should be used more like sports foods than staples.

It’s also important to note that combining all these different nutrients slows sugar’s ability to incite insulin into action. Therefore, a little sugar like a dessert after a well-rounded meal is buffered by the meal. The calories and lack of decent nutrients (processed sugar is devoid of most nutrients, except for energy) still count toward your overall diet, but at least you don’t have to worry about an insulin spike.

So the main point of this article is very simple. You should eat small, well-rounded meals most of the time. These should include some proteins, some fats, some fiber, and some carbs. During (only if it’s a long workout) and after hard workouts, you should supplement your diet with sugar or simple carbohydrates. After this, you should go back to eating well-rounded meals again.

Sports nutrition has evolved this process even further. In nature, foods are generally slow to digest. Nature’s great sports foods are things such as bananas and figs. These are sugary but still contain fiber and other nutrients. Science has found ways to make foods that are even more efficient during sports. These basically manipulate pH levels and process the sugars to speed them into your system. Outstanding when you need it. Terrible when you don’t.

They’ve even taken this a step further by finding a ratio of other nonsugary nutrients (like protein) that can be transported by the sugar to give you a further benefit. Beachbody’s Results and Recovery Formula uses this science. When you’re bonking during a hard workout, it speeds nutrients that are essential for quick recovery into your system as quickly as possible.

I can’t stress how important it is that sports fuels be used for sports performance only. Gatorade, soda, and all sugar candies (hey, no fat!) all function as the poor man’s sports foods. Unfortunately, those perusing the Quick Stop generally aren’t trying to fuel up after doing Plyo X, and therein may lay our obesity trend.

In case the topic is still a bit fuzzy, let’s use the above logic on the examples in the intro: An Ironman athlete is doing intense exercise for 10 to 12 hours or more. During this time, that athlete is mainly burning glycogen, which is gone after an hour or so. The athlete burns stored fat, too, but this is limited in its effectiveness. To race, the athlete must replenish with sports foods because they contain the only nutrients that the athlete will digest fast enough to help. To complete an Ironman, especially at your physical limit, it may take 5,000 calories coming mainly from sugar.

This is a sports-specific diet only. Someone trying to eat that way during a viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would be lucky to stay out of the emergency room. Conversely, if you tried to maintain a 25-mph speed for 8 hours on your bike while munching on raw spinach and lean steak, you’d bonk so hard you’d be praying to get yanked from the race at the first checkpoint. That should cover your 911 on nutrient timing. Next time, we’ll move on to the topic of supplements. Are they magic pills, overhyped placebos, or something in between?

Sweeteners

Sugar
In this tip, we’ll look at sugar and fake sugar, and then try to come up with a reasonable strategy to deal with our sweet teeth.

Sugar
Remember, this class is the ultra basics, so instead of using words like saccharide and galactose, let’s just say that sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. It’s sweet, yummy, and easy to crave. In nature, it’s found in plants. As you recall from Part I, plants have fiber, and this minimizes sugar’s impact on your system by causing it to be digested slowly. Carbohydrates, whether from potatoes, lentils, or bananas, all break down into sugars in your body, and you use these sugars as fuel when you do stuff. So, if done right, eating carbohydrates is a good thing, especially when you’re active.

Refined sugar, the white grainy stuff you’ll find in gummy bears, chocolate, Coke, and most desserts, is sugar minus the fiber that surrounds it in nature. What you’re left with is a sweet but highly caloric food that your body absorbs very rapidly, causing a “sugar rush.” This “rush” is a temporary imbalance in your system that your body tries to regulate—a spike of energy followed by a lull.

But your body hates the lull, so to bring you back up, it’ll crave, you guessed it, more sugar. It’s an ugly cycle, considering refined sugar’s only nutritional value is similar to a nitrous injection in a race car—a quick burst of energy that burns right out. This might be a good thing if you’re in a drag race (or, in human terms, if you need an extra burst of energy during a workout), but it’s a bad thing any other time because, if you don’t put that excess sugar to use, it gets stored as fat.

Bottom line: Refined sugar is okay for sports performance (while you are skiing, bicycling, running, and so on), but it’s bad at all other times. Unfortunately, we tend to want it at all other times. Therefore, straight sugar consumption should be limited. Now you’re probably wondering, “So the best time to eat gummy bears would be during a marathon instead of at night in front of the TV?” The answer is yes, absolutely. And now you’re probably thinking, “But I want dessert after dinner!” Right, we all do. Something sweet after a meal is pretty darn ingrained in our society.

Artificial Sweeteners
I’m not going to do a breakdown of the artificial sweeteners on the market—because we already have. I recommend that you read “Sweet Nothing,” issue #58 (refer to the Related Articles section below), which will only take you a couple of minutes. Essentially, there are a bunch of different artificial sweeteners to choose from. Most are made of various chemical reactions that your taste buds think are sweet but aren’t used by your body and have zero calories.

There are also some, called sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar because they’ve been combined with an artificial fiber that you can’t digest. These have “-tol” at the end of their names, like “xylitol.” One, Stevia, or “sweet leaf,” is natural. It’s basically a, well, sweet leaf that you can chew on or that we can grind into a powder, like sugar. Now you might be thinking, “This all sounds great! What’s the catch?”

The catch is that a lot of recent science is showing us that calories might not be the only reason we’re fat. In fact, a handful of studies cited in “Sweet Nothing” concluded that those using artificial sweetener regularly tended to be more obese than those who used regular sugar. Then there’s the little fact that sweeteners may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some, but given their track record (Vioxx, etc.), we can easily—and should—be a bit skeptical. With a cursory search of the Internet, you can find both pro and con studies for each alternative sweetener. The FDA is highly influenced by lobbyists and does not accept all viable studies, meaning that you might want more than FDA approval before blindly trusting what you put into your body. So let’s use some logic to try to assess how best to choose a sweetener. By adding two and two together, we should be able stack the odds in our favor.
Time. Saccharin is the most maligned of this bunch, yet it’s been around for more than 100 years and is still on the market. Sure, there is some negative research out there, but it can’t be that bad! A lot of people consume a lot of different artificial sweeteners. If people were dropping like flies, we’d probably hear about it. In fact, sweet leaf has been used for thousands of years. FDA approval or not, that’s what I call time-tested.
Research. If one of these sweeteners were so good, why would other people keep trying to come up with better ones? From this fact alone, we know that at least some of those negative findings must have an inkling of merit.
Money. The influence of big business can keep need-to-know information from the public (again, Vioxx, etc.). Most sweeteners have become American staples, such as aspartame in diet soda.
Artificial or natural? “Artificial” sounds bad and “natural” sounds good. But just because something is natural does not mean it’s good. Tobacco and opium are natural. So, the claim that Stevia is good because “it’s natural” bears little relevance. Many very beneficial drugs are artificial. However, you generally don’t want to take them habitually, which is how some people use artificial sweeteners. Artificial doesn’t mean bad, but it should mean caution.
Anecdotal. I’m going to share two quick stories: First, my sister is a sweet leaf proponent. It’s time-honored and natural but lacks FDA approval. She lobbied Starbucks for a natural alternative to Splenda (chlorinated sugar). She got a long line of positive responses up the chain of command until, finally, they stopped returning her calls. A short time later, her local market (a chain that she used as an example for Starbucks) was forced to stop offering sweet leaf with their coffee and only sell it as a “supplement.” Coincidence or a blatant case of big business (Starbucks and/or the folks who bring you Splenda) using strong-arm tactics against someone who truly cares about your health? In the wake of the FDA scandal, it’s hard not to at least harbor a little suspicion.
Next is a female athlete whom I trained; she could not lose weight, despite being in great shape and eating a strict diet. Her vice was about 100 ounces of no-cal soft drinks per day. She would eye double Big Gulps like a junky does crack. When we were able to get her off the stuff—she even drank some sugared soft drinks to do so—she lost 15 pounds. This example is now being echoed with science. Two large-scale studies spanning many years have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and obesity.
Bottom line: There is no hard evidence that any one sweetener is better than the others. Most likely the stuff won’t kill you, at least not quickly. But given that we also know it’s not 100 percent safe, it would seem wise to limit your consumption as much as possible.

So now that we understand that sugar should be limited, let’s look at some ways to do it.
5 Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
So what’s a dessert-loving health seeker to do? Here are my five favorite ways to cut your sugar consumption without ruining all of your fun:
1. Portion control. I recently saw a sign in a Denny’s window saying, “Remember, an apple a day.” The sign was of an apple surrounded by about 2,000 calories of sugar and fat. Our society has gone crazy for “bigger is better.” After dinner, your body is not hungry. You don’t need 2,000 extra calories. You don’t need 200! If you savor a square of chocolate or a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s slowly, it will curb your cravings without a noticeable effect on your diet.

2. Don’t snack on artificial sweeteners. Gum is probably the worst snack because it creates a stimulus-response action that causes you to crave sweet stuff constantly.

3. Add some fruit to your sugar or artificial sweetener. Fruit is both sweet and good for you. However, I realize an apple might not be enough all by itself to satiate your sweet tooth. But you can dress up fruit with a very small amount of a “real” dessert and make it pretty darn decadent.

4. Make sure you have some complex carbs in your diet. This sounds boring, but complex carbs, like whole grains, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, ‘n’ stuff, all slowly break down into blood sugar. If your blood sugar is steady, you won’t crave sugar. You might still habitually crave it, but that’s a ton better than a sugar-crash craving, which will likely lead to bingeing.

5. The protein powder trick. Most protein powders have a small amount of sugar and a touch of artificial sweetener, and are 90 percent protein. If you can find one you like (our Whey Protein Powder is fantastic, ahem, ahem), you might be able to curb your cravings with a high-protein snack. Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Jam®, uses chocolate protein powder as a base for pudding, and Beachbody® advice staff member, Denis Faye, sprinkles it on cereal. If you get creative, the possibilities may be endless.

11 Tips for Cooking Out Without Pigging Out

Grilling OutIt’s summertime, which means it’s time to fire up the grill and enjoy the great outdoors. It all sounds pretty healthy, until somebody shows up with a bowl of mayonnaise and potatoes, which, without a trace of irony, will be announced as a salad. It’s like calling a stick of butter a nutrition bar. A few side dishes like this, combined with some fatty hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, and ice cream, and bathing-suit season can become caftan season before you know it. But if you only invite the neighbors over for celery sticks and tofu kabobs, you can count on getting the stink-eye from everyone next time you’re out mowing the lawn. The secret to throwing a great barbecue is to find ways to eat healthily without making it seem like last call at fat camp. Fortunately, with so many great foods available during the summer months, it’s easy to plan a menu that will include great-tasting food and let you keep your P90X®, Slim in 6®, or ChaLEAN Extreme® figure. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your outdoor culinary excursions, so you can picnic without the pounds, still enjoy good food, and keep yourself and your family and friends healthy.

1. Veg out
The cookout doesn’t need to be a celebration of the weather being so good that the unhealthy foods we used to eat in front of the TV can now be eaten in the backyard. It’s summer! The time of year when all the best fruits and vegetables are at their peak. And grilling vegetables is a great way to get tons of flavor without tons of calories. Delicious on their own or as a complement to another dish, grilled veggies are a must-have for a healthy cookout. Use them in salads, on burgers, or by themselves. Check out what’s fresh at your local farmers’ market. Good veggies for grilling include peppers, asparagus, artichokes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, scallions, and onions. Just brush them with a little olive oil, some fresh herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and you’re serving something healthy that you and your guests can load up on guilt free.

2. Herbal remedies
Only the worst chefs need to rely on fat and salt for seasoning. Now’s the time to stock up on fresh basil, oregano, tarragon, dill, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, etc. Or even better, grow your own. Oftentimes, a pot of living basil from the nursery costs less than a handful of leaves from your produce section. Use fresh herbs liberally in all of your recipes, and you’ll be replacing fat with flavor.

3. Hold the mayo
Nothing lays waste to the best-laid plans for a healthy barbecue like mayonnaise. A main ingredient in picnic staples like potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw, mayo loads up enough fat and calories that your only hope of weight loss is that the dishes stay out in the sun long enough to cause salmonella poisoning. Try using healthier ingredients, like yogurt or low-fat ricotta cheese, and adding fresh herbs. Instead of mayonnaise, use yogurt and fresh dill in your potato salad. Make a whole-grain pasta salad with cherry or grape tomatoes, fresh basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

4. Don’t be so starchy!
There’s no law that says every picnic “salad” needs to begin with potatoes or pasta. There are plenty of salad recipes out there that are so delicious, no one will miss their starchy, fatty counterparts. How about making that old-time favorite, three-bean salad! Or if you want something a little heartier, lentils mixed with a light vinaigrette, a little onion or garlic, some fresh herbs, and a sprinkling of feta cheese will fill you up and give you enough energy to play more than horseshoes and lawn darts later. Make some simple, fresh vegetable salads. Slice up some tomatoes or cucumbers, and toss them with a bit of vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and onions or garlic, and you have a refreshing side dish that will fill you up without filling you out.

5. Know your cuts of meat
It’s not just a game on Letterman. While of course substituting skinless chicken or fish for your rib eye would be the BEST nutritional decision, we know you’re not made of stone. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a barbecue without the scent of grilled steak or pork in the air. But not all cuts are created equal. For beef, the best rule is to look for cuts with the word loin or round. Other great lean cuts are flank steak, skirt steak, tri-tip, and London broil. With pork, the leanest cuts are the tenderloin and loin chops. With both pork and beef, try to avoid anything involving the ribs (including rib eyes), which have the fattiest cuts of meat. And those baby back ribs will make you look like you’re having the baby. Because of their low fat content, most of the lean cuts will need to be marinated for a couple of hours before grilling. Read on for marinade ideas.

6. Lay off the (store-bought) sauce
One of the main ingredients in most store-bought barbecue and teriyaki sauces is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Even the most casual Beachbody reader knows how we feel about HFCS. Instead, bust out those herbs you bought or grew (see tip #2), and make some gourmet marinades and sauces that won’t send your blood sugar into a tailspin. Using ingredients like fresh herbs; citrus juices; olive, sesame, and canola oils; wine; low-sodium soy sauce; and various vinegars, you can liven up your meat dishes and save the sugar for dessert. And when you’re planning your marinades . . .

7. Go global
Since the U.S. is one of the most obese nations in the world, maybe it’s worth checking out what those in slimmer nations are grilling. How about a Cuban marinade for your chicken, or pork with citrus juice and garlic? Or Indian tandoori-style skinless chicken thighs marinated in yogurt and spices like turmeric, curry, or cardamom? Try making your own Japanese teriyaki with sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, and honey, and skip the corn syrup from the store brands. Try out Greek kabobs, Korean barbecue, or Jamaican jerk-rubbed meat—whatever catches your eye or your taste buds. And throwing a barbecue with an international theme sounds a lot more appetizing than a barbecue where “we’re watching our weight.”

8. Good dogs
Of course, not everyone is going to be keen on vegetables and treats from foreign lands. Kids, for example. So you’re probably going to need some kind of hot dog for these less adventurous eaters. Pretty much anything can end up in a hot dog, but in most cases, hot dogs are tubes full of fatty meat and carcinogenic nitrates—yum! This is where it really pays to read the label. A regular hot dog runs over 200 calories and 18 grams of fat. A turkey frank has half of that. The fat, calorie, and sodium contents of various brands and types of dogs vary wildly, so choose carefully. For the less fussy, there are also several varieties of chicken and turkey sausages with gourmet ingredients that are delicious and low in fat and calories.

9. Better burgers
A friend of mine who is highly phobic of meat-borne illnesses like E. Coli and mad cow disease had the great idea of asking the butcher to grind up a piece of sirloin or top round that she selected from the meat case for hamburgers. This limits your exposure to contaminants, as there’s only one cow involved in the making of a steak, where there could be hundreds involved in a package of ground beef. This also allows you to control the fat content that’s in your hamburger. If you have a decent food processor, you could even grind your meat at home and blend in spices, garlic, or onion to enhance the flavor. If all this talk of cows and contaminants has put you off beef, you might give a turkey burger a try. But again, read the label. Many packages of ground turkey contain ground-up skin and other fatty pieces, resulting in a fat and calorie content not much better than ground beef. Try looking for extra-lean or ground turkey breast. And if you’re worried about the bird flu, it might be worth giving veggie burgers another try. If you haven’t had one in a few years, you may remember them as I do—some sort of reconstituted cardboard patty that smelled like feet. But there have been great strides in veggie burger technology. In fact, there are a couple of brands a vegan friend of mine refuses to eat, because they taste too much like meat. Try a couple of different brands. You may be surprised.

10. Topping it off
When you’re putting together the topping trays for your grilled delights, you can also save a few calories. The traditional lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are great, but skip the cheese, mayonnaise, and corn-syrup–laden ketchup. Instead, try putting some of those grilled veggies you made on your burger or chicken breast. Or add a slice of avocado if you miss the creaminess of melted cheese. Put out a variety of mustards, hot sauces, and salsas, which are low in calories and fat, and don’t usually contain corn syrup. Don’t forget to look for whole-grain buns for your dogs or burgers, or try eating them open-faced or bunless, if you’re trying to cut carbs.

11. Just desserts
Well, you’ve behaved admirably during the rest of the barbecue, so you deserve a little summer treat. Have a little bit of ice cream (although frozen yogurt would be even better, and plain yogurt better yet!), but heap a bunch of fruit on it, instead of a dollop of fudge or a side of pie. After all, what we said about vegetables goes for fruit too. This is the time of year where you can get your hands on the best fruit, at the lowest prices. Indulge in berries, peaches, oranges, melons, and all your favorite seasonal fruits. Make a huge fruit salad, or blend fruit with yogurt and ice for a smoothie. Or for those with ambition and an ice cream maker, try making your own fruit sorbet. You may decide to skip the ice cream after all!

Hopefully, these suggestions will help make your summer barbecue a huge success. And in the worst-case scenario that you end up being forced to partake in your neighbor’s annual Salute to Mayonnaise, you can always use Beachbody’s 3-Day Refresh® to minimize the damage before the next pool party! so you don’t absentmindedly munch a thousand or so calories from a big bag.