Why your last Fourth of July meal was no cause for celebration

Every year after a great time with friends, food and fireworks, you feel awful. You leave the party tired and overly full. Often it’s not only how much you ate, but also what you ate. July Fourth is a holiday like any other, at least in the way we tend to use it as an excuse to overindulge in the wrong foods—but with a few trade-offs you can end the night feeling a bit better.

Hot dogs are among the worst culprits when it comes to causing post-Fourth headaches and bloating. White bread, which quickly breaks down into sugar, surrounds processed meats for an unhealthy combo that contributes to raised triglycerides and heart disease. But we’ve never been led to believe hot dogs are health food: Cured meat often comes with MSG, artificial colors, corn syrup and fillers. A slightly better alternative is an all-natural, uncured hot dog and a whole-wheat bun with few ingredients. For something truly healthy though, try lean chicken or veggie burgers on the grill instead.

Chicken salad, tuna salad, potato salad, dips and burgers—mayonnaise infiltrates many cookout dishes. Preservatives make mayo shelf stable for months but may add a bad taste so in many cases MSG is added to cover up unwanted flavors. Also, oils in mayo often have little flavor yet are high in omega-6 content. Having an overabundant intake of omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 can lead to weight gain, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A healthier alternative is to use Greek yogurt to achieve a similar creamy texture. You can add a wonderful flavor to the yogurt by blending in hot sauce, avocado or garlic.

In the heat of the July afternoon, sugary sodas, cocktails and frozen treats are unloaded from coolers and freezers and gulped down. All this sweetness brings a high, and a low. The crash can make you tired, irritable and dehydrated. Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis can have a much more serious effect than just fatigue: Heavy sugar intake is linked to heart disease.

It is recommended women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of refined sugar and men no more than 9 teaspoons. To put that in perspective, sodas usually have about 10 teaspoons of sugar per can. For a sweet experience without the crash, it’s better to go with real fruit. The fiber slows the breakdown of sugars and lessens the crash effect. Real fruit can easily be made into frozen treats and smoothies. Don’t forget there are other beverage choices: Iced tea and infused water are refreshing and have antioxidants.

By adjusting this year’s Fourth of July fare a little, you’ll find yourself, friends and family feeling less sluggish after dinner. Without the cured meat, mayo and sugar, your risks for serious illnesses, like heart disease, are reduced. Take care of yourself and your loved ones by serving something healthier this year.

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