Fourth of July is here and for many in the U.S. that will include gatherings with fireworks and food. A lot of that food will be cooked on the grill and some will be healthy and some won’t.
Since a lot of people will be going to parties or will be eating some of the “traditional foods” that are associated with Independence Day, I decided to put together a list of some of the popular Fourth of July food items that you may run across.
Some of the foods were good, some were bad and others were a mixed bag. I based my ratings on how well a particular food would incorporate into a muscle-gain or fat-loss meal plan. I didn’t include any alcoholic beverages in my review since they aren’t good for any goal.
The ratings are not set in stone. Some of the foods that I rated low could be modified into something that meets your macros. Hopefully this can help you weigh your options so you can make an informed decision about your foods.
One of the most popular items on a Fourth of July menu is the good ole’hamburger. While it may not have the healthiest reputation this is not that bad if you are looking to gain or lose weight.
The most popular ground beef sold in grocery stores is the fatty 80/20 meat. That is 80% lean and 20% fat. Personally this is not my favorite type of ground beef, but depending on the macros you are going for, it might not be that bad.
I have seen some 96/4 ground beef and would lean toward that one when I am bulking up. A traditional bulking diet has a lot fo carbs and low fat so I would be including a bunch of complex carbs.
When I am cutting I would probably use a fattier meat since I would need the fat calories to replace the carbs that I take out of my meals.
Whatever type of hamburger you chose will really depend on your goal. One will have more protein and less fat and the other will have more fat and less protein.
As with all beef, grass-fed is better than factory-raised.
The real nutrition killer lies in the condiments. Ketchup is usually loaded with corn syrup, sugar or both. High levels of sugar aren’t really good for bulking or cutting. I have seen low sugar ketchups so that may be something to consider if you really need it.
The other major accompaniment item to be careful of is the bun. Usually buns are white bread which are high on the glycemic index and can spike insulin levels. This is another food to be careful of. A whole wheat bun can make it a little healthier but even those are still pretty high on the glycemic index.
If you are cutting , the buns should be avoided altogether.
Verdict: thumbs up
Although I do like to see Takeru Kobayashi or Joey Chestnut battle with other competitive eaters every year at the Hot Dog eating contest, I personally am not a big fan of hot dogs.
Where do I even begin with this? This highly processed mystery meat usually has high levels of sodium and when they are cured they contain nitrates which have been linked to cancer. On top of that most don’t even have a lot of protein to make it all worthwhile.
These are usually made with beef, pork or turkey and usually have a bunch of chemicals in it. They usually don’t select the best cuts of meat either.
There definitely some exceptions to this though as there are brands that offer organic, nitrate free quality meats. These are the exception though and unless you are buying and cooking them yourself, odds are that the dog is highly processed.
Like the hamburger, the hot dog is also usually served in a white bread high glycemic bun. Nutritionally, there is very little benefit to eating the bun. Whole wheat can be a bit better but should still be avoided if you are going low carb.
The best thing about a hot dog is actually the condiment that usually accompanies it, and that is not saying much. Mustard is relatively not bad when used in moderation. (That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, just that it is better than other condiments.)
Unless it’s a honey mustard or something along those lines, mustard is low in sugar and is on the OK list. Like most condiments, be careful of the sodium content though.
Verdict: thumbs down (can be thumbs up with a high-quality hot dog)
Corn on the Cob
I have to admit I am a big fan of corn on the cob and a lot of other corn products. Even though I don’t eat them much, I love tortilla chips, corn tortillas and even popcorn.
All of them may need to be avoided depending on your nutrition plan since they are all full of carbs. The carbs are not a bad thing if your are trying to gain muscle though.
A lot of people go wrong and think corn is a veggie and they can have an unlimited amount of it. Make no mistake; corn is a grain and not a vegetable. Corn is definitely a starch and should be treated as such.
The carbs from corn should not be too much of an issue if you are looking at adding muscle but they should be limited or cut out if you are trying to lose weight.
The real issue with corn is that most of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to resisted pesticides. These have not been fully tested and can be linked to health problems like cancer. I am not a proponent of genetically modified foods at all and that is where corn loses a lot of points in my rating.
Beans themselves are a relatively good food. They are mostly a carbohydrate but they pack a little protein (incomplete) and fiber. This makes them a great food for bulking up.
Even though they are a carb, beans are not a considered a sugar or a grain so a small amount of beans as a side are OK even if you are in fat loss mode. I would probably recommend against them as a main dish though.
The real problem with beans comes when they are served as baked beans. Usually baked bean recipes have brown sugar and/or molasses in their recipe. Again, getting a lot of sugar and raising your insulin levels are a killer if you are trying to lose. You also probably don’t want to eat too many sugary foods if you are trying to gain lean muscle.
If you chose to eat beans, use caution because there can be a lot of high glycemic carbs added to the beans that you might not be thinking about. Also be careful of the high sodium content from canned beans.
Potatoes, mayo and sometimes eggs are the main ingredients here. Eggs are definitely a winner here, but there are possible issues with the potatoes and the mayo.
Potatoes aren’t such a bad starch when you are trying to add size. Sweet potatoes are slightly lower on the glycemic index and are have a different nutrient profile. Some people react very well to simple carbs when they are trying to bulk up.
You would definitely want to avoid both normal and sweet potatoes if you are cutting.
The mayonnaise is one you really need to watch. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know how much I am against soy and mayonnaise is usually made with soybean oil. It’s definitely not a GMO or estrogen friendly food item for you.
There are some mayos that are made with olive oil so read the label before you buy it. If you are at a friend or family member’s house it might be best to avoid it altogether if you aren’t sure.
Verdict: Thumbs down
Ribs are a very fatty cut of meat. It doesn’t matter what king of ribs you are eating; pork spareribs, baby back ribs, beef ribs or any other kind of ribs… they are all high in fat and relatively low in protein.
High fat and relatively low protein foods are not a good recipe for building muscle. There many other food options out there that are better for adding size.
For cutting the high fat may not be as much of a problem but the issue usually comes from the rubs or sauces that the ribs are in. Both usually have a lot of sugar. High fat and sugar are a bad combo for losing weight.
Whether you are looking to build muscle or burn fat I would go in different direction and steer clear of the ribs.
Verdict: Thumbs down
Boneless skinless chicken breast is one of my favorite foods and is a great muscle builder. It’s great for the grill but the same issue comes in play just like with the ribs. Barbecue sauce usually has a lot of sugar or corn syrup so you would need to be careful with that.
Other parts of the chicken like the thigh, drumstick or wing are a lot fattier and that fat can go up significantly if the skin is still on it. This can be a killer combo with a sugary sauce. If you can manage a sauce that does not have any sugar though these high fat items may not be as bad if you are cutting and going low carb.
Chicken can be a great food if you are gaining or cutting. The piece you chose will depend on the fat content you want to get, but you definitely need to be careful of the sauce or marinade.
Verdict: Thumbs up
To me, this (along with hot dogs and hamburgers) just seems to be synonymous with the Fourth of July. That does not mean that I think apple pie is a healthy food, but of all the decadent dessert options out there apple pie is definitely not the worst.
The first thing about apple pie is the apples themselves. They start out as a pretty solid fruit choice. They are a healthy fruit when they are raw but when cooked as a filling, there is usually a bunch of sugar added to it. If you are making it yourself you could cut back or eliminate the sugar.
No matter how much sugar you add, cooking the apples will increase it’s sugar content. The cooking will also degrade a lot of the fiber as well as the vitamins and minerals.
The worst case scenario would be a low-quality store bought pie, where you might be getting a highly processed fake apple filling.
The crust is usually made of flour and some kind of fatty binder like butter. And with a low quality pie from the store you could be getting a lot of trans-fats in the crust. This is definitely the worst part of the pie from a health perspective.
Unless you are going to eat a specialized pie with a non-traditional recipe, apple pie is very low in protein which makes it a poor choice for building muscle. The high sugar content will make it a poor choice for losing fat.
Verdict: Thumbs down.
A common fruit for the summer is the watermelon. Like most fruits there is almost no protein in it so it would not be a great food for building muscle. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad though.
A watermelon is mostly water so even though you get a few nutrients like vitamin C in it, they just aren’t very high. This also means that the sugar content is not as high relative to it’s volume.
It does measure pretty high on the glycemic index, but it has a pretty low glycemic load. This means that even if you are cutting, a small portion of watermelon is on the “OK” list.
So I hope you have a great holiday and I hope this has provided you with some insight on some of the foods that you might eat. Remember there are some foods that are OK in moderation. As long as you eat clean most of the time you can reward yourself with a little treat on special occasions.
With that said, I hope you can stay on track this holiday. If you like this article please leave a comment below or share this with a friend on facebook, twitter, pinterest or any other social media with the buttons below.
Now go have some fun, eat healthy and get to they gym and Smash It!