Summer is here and that means barbecues, picnics, and fireworks are in season!
It’s a time to gather with friends and family (with appropriate social distancing measures, of course), enjoy the sunny weather, and indulge in some delicious food.
On average, Americans consume an estimated 20 billion hot dogs,27.3 billion pounds of beef, 52.2 billion pounds of meat, 1.5 billion pounds of potato chips, and 1.4 billion gallons of ice cream per year (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
With the cookout season underway, it can be tricky to stay on track with your health and budget. GreenChoice has compiled a list of healthy alternatives to help make your summer BBQ shopping trip a little easier for you this year.
1. Replace conventional hot dogs with chicken sausage or turkey dogs
On the 4th of July alone, Americans eat about 150 million hot dogs. That’s 1 hot dog for every 2 people in America —and that doesn’t include all the burgers and other grill items (6)! As festive and delicious as hotdogs may be, meat products — especially red and processed meats such as hot dogs — are typically very high in saturated fat. According to our data, they contain an average of 21% of your recommended daily value (DV) for saturated fat per serving while processed lunch meats contain an average of about 25% of the DV.
In contrast, GreenChoice Data suggests that the average saturated fat content in one serving of turkey products is about 5% of the DV, significantly lower than traditional beef hot dogs.
As a healthy alternative to traditional beef franks, we recommend trying Applegate Organic Hot Dogs. Their Organic, Uncured Turkey Hot Dog has a GreenScore™ of 66, and scored a 89 in food safety!
Another option is Bilinski’s Organic Wild Mushroom with Italian Herbs Chicken Sausage! This item has no toxic additives or artificial additives and is grown without chemical pesticides. This is significant as about 30% of pork products in the GreenChoice Database contain toxic additives. Meanwhile, this item is also an excellent source of protein and calcium. It has a GreenScore™ of 68, scoring an 89 in food safety and a 54 in processing.
If you live near a Wegmans, consider Wegmans’ Organic Chicken Sausage with Spinach and Asiago. These chicken sausages scored a 100 in food safety, contain no toxic additives, and the chicken feed is grown without chemical pesticides. While they contain a moderate level of saturated fat (7% of the DV), this is considerably lower than the beef-and-pork-based products in the GreenChoice Database, which range from 14-21% of the DV for saturated fat.
2. Replace red meat with poultry or seafood
7 in 10 adults in the U.S. own a grill or smoker, with the highest grill usage occurring on summer holiday weekends (7).
Environmental engineering professor Steve Skerlos, from the University of Michigan, explains that although grilling with either propane or charcoal releases some carbon dioxide into the environment, the carbon emissions of producing red meat are 20-30 times higher than the emissions produced by grilling (8).
Furthermore, red meat is a particularly high source of unhealthy, saturated fat. Though controversial, strong research links saturated fat intake to heart disease and stroke (9). Try swapping out your red meat with chicken, turkey, or seafood. For example, Wegmans Organic Chicken Breast has a GreenScore™ of 76 and processing and food safety both score 100. It contains virtually no saturated fat and is an excellent source of protein (44% of the DV).
3. Replace meat with plant-based alternatives
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 34,000 deaths per year worldwide are attributable to the consumption of red and processed meat, which likely increase the risk of colorectal and other cancers (10). They determined eating 50 grams of processed meat a day (equivalent to about one hot dog) can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18% (11).
Plant-based diets are on trend, and for good reason. Plant-based products and grilled vegetables are a delicious healthy alternative if you want to avoid the health risks associated with many types of meat.
Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger is a great source of dietary fiber and protein, while also scoring much higher in Environment than most meat products. This item has a GreenScore™ of 77 with a 100 in both nutrition and environment and a 74 in processing.
A meat-free grill can also include anything from veggie kabobs and grilled corn to eggplant burgers. They are high in nutrients, better for the environment, and easy on your wallet.
4. Replace fried chips with air dried veggie chips
Everyone loves chips and dip. They’re a fun and easy party snack for any summer gathering.
Most tortilla chips are high in saturated fat, sodium, and made of refined grains. Refined grains have been milled, which is a process that removes the bran and germ; additional refining includes bleaching. It is in this process that healthy nutrients like dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins are unintentionally stripped from the flour (12).
Veggie chips are a great way to incorporate foods with a higher GreenScore™ while still enjoying your chips and salsa!
Brad’s Organic Veggie Chips have a GreenScore™ of 84, score 78 in Processing, and are an excellent source of calcium. Try them out with Muir Glen Organic Black Bean and Corn Salsa, which has a GreenScore™ of 89, for a delicious snack.
5. Replace ice cream with dairy-free desserts
It wouldn’t be a summer cookout without some tasty, sweet treats, and what better way to cool off than enjoying some ice cream! Nadamoo’s Vanilla Ice Cream scores a 66 as it has no artificial additives or toxic additives, a low water footprint, and is a great source of dietary fiber! Ciao Bella’s Chocolate Raspberry is another healthy alternative, with a GreenScore™ of 81. It scores a 79 in processing and an 80 in nutrition!
Another healthy alternative to sugary and processed desserts is fruit salad. You can include all kinds of fruit like strawberries (GreenScore™: 90), watermelon (GreenScore™: 93), bananas (GreenScore™: 84), blueberries (GreenScore™: 81), and blackberries (GreenScore™: 85)
We hope this healthy alternatives list will make it easier to focus on what’s important.
Whether you’re cooking for your family or hosting a big summer BBQ, it can be tricky to come up with healthy and sustainable food options that will make everyone happy. We hope this list makes it easier to find healthy alternatives to all your favorite American staples – so that you can focus on making fun memories with loved ones and soaking up that summer sun.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 4, 2019, and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
GreenChoice, PBC has evaluated and rated more than 340,000 food & beverage products across hundreds of attributes related to diet, health, and sustainability. Easily find the best products for you, the planet, & your budget. Download the free GreenChoice app for Apple iOS or Android!
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