Guilty pleasure summer foods that are actually good for you

By Rosemary Black, for MDLinx
Published May 23, 2019

Key Takeaways

Mm-mmm… It’s summertime, when all the foods that you love to eat are at their guilt-inducing best! They may be cool and creamy or crispy and salty, but chances are they may not be the most nutritious foods around… Unless ice cream counts as nutritious? Well, it turns out that ice cream actually is good for you (if you don’t overdo it), as are a handful of other warm-weather treats. Read on to learn more about summery foods that have nutritional benefits (and how you can make them even better).

Ice cream

Eating ice cream makes you happy, which is one great reason to scoop up a dish or cone of your favorite flavor. And here’s some good news: If you’re going to indulge, there’s no reason to skip full-fat ice cream in favor of low-fat. According to recent research, high-fat dairy foods don’t cause obesity or contribute to diabetes or cardiovascular disease—in fact, it may even help prevent them. So, don’t feel guilty about tucking into this cool and creamy treat.

And if you’re hoping to get pregnant, a bowl or cone of ice cream is totally fine, too. In fact, according to an article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the true “fertility foods” are whole grains, healthy fats, high-quality protein, and even the occasional bowl of ice cream: “This isn't just wishful thinking. Instead, it comes from the first comprehensive examination of diet and fertility, an eight-year study of more than 18,000 women that uncovered ten evidence-based suggestions for improving fertility. This work, from the landmark Nurses’ Health Study, fills a critical information gap on diet and fertility.”

The study’s researchers learned that women who consumed full-fat ice cream a couple of times (or more) per week had a 38% lower risk of ovulation-related infertility than women who ate ice cream less than once a week.

Make it better: Top your ice cream with fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. Or make a shake with ice cream, milk, and the berries of your choice, all whirled in the blender.

Or put your blender to work making avocado chocolate mousse, suggests Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, NY. “Blend the avocado with cocoa power and a little agave or maple syrup and a little vanilla,” she says. “You have a smooth, creamy chocolate pudding that is low on the glycemic index.”

Baked beans

Smoky, hearty, and sweet, baked beans are practically a required dish at a summer picnic, and they do have nutritional benefits, says Diane Norwood, MS, RD, CDE, author of the blog

Beans are nutritional powerhouses that offer plenty of fiber and plant-based protein, says Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and creator, Wholitarian™ Lifestyle. “They’re also packed with micronutrients,” she adds.

Make it better: “Beans are a natural real food and if we keep the added sugar and fat to a minimum, they can absolutely fit into a healthy plan,” Norwood says. “If you cook them with a lot of barbecue sauce, ketchup, molasses or brown sugar, just be aware of portion size, since the carbohydrates add up quickly.”

Hot dogs

Juicy on the inside with a savory snap on the outside, nothing beats a grilled hot dog at a summer party to put you in a happy mood. Slathered with ketchup and served in a white bun, this food tastes even better. But is it good for you?

“Hot dogs are a source of protein, which we need to satiate our appetite,” says Zarabi. “You can make it even healthier, though, if you wrap it in a collard green or large lettuce leaf.”

Make it better: Sub in a chicken or turkey dog for the beef and pork varieties, and use whole-wheat buns in place of white.


Whether you’re eating lobster, fried clams, or a burger platter, chances are it comes with creamy coleslaw. Laden with mayo, coleslaw may not seem like the healthiest side-dish option. But cabbage, the key ingredient, is one of the vegetables believed to reduce atherosclerotic disease and to be inversely associated with subclinical measures of atherosclerosis like carotid artery disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are “rich sources of organosulfur compounds, which are proposed to be beneficial for cardiovascular health,” according to an article in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Make it better: “You are getting fiber from the cabbage,” says Zarabi. “If you make the coleslaw yourself, you can make sure it’s not loaded with sugar and salt, and you can enhance its flavor with heart-healthy nuts.” Making it yourself also lets you control the amount of mayonnaise you use.

Corn on the cob

With its brilliant yellow color and delicious taste, corn on the cob—dripping with butter and sprinkled lavishly with salt—just may be the quintessential summer veggie. But is it nutritionally worth it?

Corn has a nice amount of fiber, says Amy Hess-Fischl, MS, RDN, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE, University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center, Chicago, IL. In fact, corn contains about 10% of the daily recommended dietary allowance for fiber, according to the US Department of Agriculture. It also contains some vitamin C and is low in fat and cholesterol.

“It’s a higher starch vegetable, so you want to be very aware of the portion size you consume in relation to the rest of your meal,” Hess-Fischl advises. “Adding a teaspoon of butter is absolutely fine, but again be aware of the other types of fat you’re having at the same time. To follow a more healthful approach, be sure to minimize added salt, too.”

Make it better: Try using olive oil instead of butter, and top with chopped fresh herbs rather than salt.

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