By Cesar Lara, M.D.

As Floridians, we experience far less seasonality than other parts of the country. We are generally accustomed to heat and humidity throughout the year, and our coldest winter days barely register as a chill compared to our neighbors in the north. Even so, there is still something special about summer in the Sunshine State. Children are out of school, barbecues occupy every weekend, and the mood is light, casual, and easy.


Summer presents some unique opportunities for making healthy lifestyle choices that may not be available year-round. You may not have realized that grilling is actually one of the healthiest methods for food preparation available. Unlike other cooking methods such as frying and sautéing, grilling does not require additional oils, which add fat and calories that we often don’t account for in our meals. Grilling also tends to be more flavorful than steaming or boiling, and grilled foods can be completed well by adding simple spices.

Of course, the kind of food you choose to grill also matters. Look for meats that contain lean protein, such as chicken and turkey, or are high in healthy fats, such as salmon and shrimp. Burgers and sausages should be grilled occasionally instead of as a dietary staple. Add spice blends or look for lighter marinades to prepare your meat, and be careful of the sugars and unhealthy fats that appear in many prepared sauces. You can also cook a wide range of vegetables on the grill, providing another unique and healthy option for mealtime. Using fresh ingredients whenever possible will not only help you avoid unnecessary additives, it will make your next cookout even more delicious.


When the weather is hot, we also naturally crave cooling foods. This includes not only items that are served chilled, but also dishes with milder flavors and thinner sauces. Think watermelon, cucumber salad, or gazpacho. We are less inclined to eat hot entrees, heavier dishes, or very spicy foods. For the most part, these cooling foods tend to be lower in fat and calories, so in many ways we can quite literally “go with our gut” when it comes to eating during this time.

However, it is important to be mindful of how much fruit we are consuming, for example, because fruit is high in naturally-occurring sugar. You will also want to pay attention to whether items are served with a less healthy dressing or dip, and of course be careful about cooling foods such as ice cream, which should be an occasional treat rather than a nightly dessert. When you are eating a meal in any season, you want to give it your complete attention, chew slowly, and listen to your body’s signals of fullness.


The intensity of the Florida climate also means that we need to take some additional precautions during the summer. Hydration is always important for maintaining great health, but it becomes even more vital during hot, humid weather. As you sweat, your body is losing water, as well as small amounts of other organic materials, including salts. The more you sweat, the more you need to replenish your water supply. Many of the cooling foods described above have a naturally high water content, which may in part explain why we are drawn to them during hotter months. However, food alone is not an adequate source of rehydration, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water each day.


Being a Floridian also means the opportunity to exercise outdoors year-round. However, exercising during the summer in the blazing hot sun can lead to heatstroke (not to mention sunburn). Try to avoid the heat of the day by exercising in the morning or the evening. The sun is most intense between the hours of 10am-2pm, so whether you are indoors or outdoors, seek shade during this time. If your exercise regimen is intense, you may need to replenish some of the salts lost by sweating in addition to rehydrating your body. Sports drinks tend to be high in added sugars, but coconut water or water with electrolytes are both great options for salt replenishment.


Health is about so much more than what we eat or how we choose to break a sweat. It’s comprehensive and involves caring for our bodies as a whole, inside and out. So the last piece of advice I will offer for the Florida summer is to wear sunscreen – every single day.

I hope you have a relaxing and enjoyable summer. Stay cool.

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