A summer holiday is something many of us look forward to all year. There’s nothing better than escaping the routine of everyday life for some sun, sea and sand.
For many people, the highlight of any holiday is enjoying the various delicious foods on offer in local restaurants and from luxurious all-inclusive buffets.
The downside is that being on holiday often makes it harder to stick to a healthy eating plan and more likely to be tempted into eating fatty and calorie-laden foods.
To ensure the only thing you come home with is a tan and not a big weight gain, Sally Norton, weight loss consultant at Spire The Glen Hospital Bristol and founder of Vavista.com, has put together a guide to eating healthily in five top holiday destinations – Greece, Spain, Italy, France and the United States.
With delicious dishes like moussaka (a mixture of potatoes, aubergine and minced lamb with a creamy sauce) and pastitsio (a layered pasta dish with beef or lamb in tomato sauce and creamy béchamel) on the menu, it can be easy to over-indulge.
What to avoid: Go easy on the moussaka – the average portion contains more than 550 calories and 40g of fat. Also, skip the baklava – the classic Greek dessert made from pastry, nuts and honey or syrup – which has more than 300 calories and 20g of fat in one small piece, but more importantly is full of sugar!
What to have instead: Look for dolmades on the menu. These stuffed vine leaves are filled with rice and spices and cooked in a light broth, making them nutritious and low in calories. Alternatively, a Greek salad which combines feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and onion can be a good choice – just don’t over do the salad dressing. Alternatively, opt for souvlaki (grilled skewers of meat) and fill up with a huge fresh side salad. For dessert, go for the fresh fruit option instead – delicious.
When you think of France, white crusty bread and slabs of cheese come to mind. Sadly, these foods are bad news for waistlines – but it is possible to holiday in France and stay on the healthy-eating bandwagon…
What to avoid: With buttery, flaky pastry, croissant is the classic French breakfast. However, each one can contain up to 400 calories and 20g of fat - and they’re not particularly filling. It’s worth skipping crème brulee for dessert too as a small portion packs in at least 250 calories and 20g of fat.
What to have instead: Look out for Salad Nicoise on restaurant menus. This filling salad is made with tuna, potatoes, eggs, making it a good balance of protein and carbs and it is usually less than 400 calories. Lean steak is also a good choice – just skip the frites and ask for a side salad instead. You could also shop at local markets and cook at your apartment with fresh produce.
Spain (including the Balearic and Canary Islands)
From tapas to paella, the colourful, delicious dishes found in Spain and the Canary Islands can be hard to resist. However, you don’t have to go hungry while you holiday in Spain.
What to avoid: Tapas is on nearly every menu in this region. To avoid a calorie overload, steer clear of dishes that contain chorizo – a spicy Spanish sausage that is full of fat and has a whopping 400 calories per one cup serving - as well as any deep fried options. Fish and olive tapas dishes are a healthier choice. Paella may sound healthy as it often contains vegetables and fish, but it can be high in salt and all that white rice means it is high in refined carbs so it’s better to go for other options.
What to have instead: There’s nothing better than fresh fish while you’re on holiday near the sea, and Spanish restaurants often have a great selection. Whether it’s grilled squid or seared seabass, team it with a salad and some new potatoes and tuck in, guilt-free! Gazpacho – a tomato-based soup that’s usually served cold – is also a nutritious and light alternative.
Whether it’s delicious bread or tasty pasta, Italy and carbs seem to effortlessly go hand-in-hand. Of course, while excess carbs can be nice for our taste buds, they can wreak havoc on our waistlines.
What to avoid: Pizza is probably the biggest no-no in Italy – anything more than one slice is going to send the number of calories you consume through the roof, particularly if it’s topped with fatty
meats like salami. Creamy carbonara is another one to avoid, as it’s high in carbs and fat and can exceed 800 calories for a single portion.
What to have instead: Don’t cross pasta off the menu entirely – opt for something like penne alla primavera (penne tossed with spring vegetables and fresh herbs) or a tomato-based dish instead. Insalata (Italian salad) is also a healthy option – just ask your waiter for options that don’t have a creamy or oily dressing and avoid croutons. Italian cold vegetable salads are another good option.
The US is well-known for its giant portions and wide range of fried, unhealthy foods, making a holiday to popular destinations like Florida a potential minefield for the calorie-conscious. However, there are still plenty of healthy options of offer if you know what to look out for.
What to avoid: It sounds obvious, but anything deep-fried is going to be high in calories and fat. That includes fried chicken (just one piece packs more than 300 calories) and French fries (a standard serving comes in at 360 calories). It’s not just dinner time that can be a danger-zone, breakfast is also a time to be careful, with two pancakes and maple syrup clocking up more than 500 calories and a single plain donut coming in at 250 calories. Whislt seemingly healthy, the massive fruit smoothies and juices on sale may contain loads of sugar. Although they contain some vitamins too, making them a better option than the ubiquitous fizzy drinks, you are better off sticking with the iced water that is provided free with every meal.
What to have instead: Filling and healthy salads can be found at most restaurants across America, even at fast food establishments. For example, TGI Friday do a Cobb salad that contains chopped egg, tomato, avocado, and lean grilled chicken and contains 590 calories for a huge portion. Make sure you ask for dressing on the side or you may find your meal drenched in gloopy, sugary dressing!
Scrambled eggs with lean bacon and whole-wheat toast makes for a healthier breakfast that will fire up your metabolism in the morning. Also, consider asking for a child’s portion, sharing a main or ordering a starter size only as American portions are HUGE!
Finally: Tempted to indulge in a drop of alcohol whilst relaxing by the pool? Cocktails, particularly if cream or fruit based can be packed with sugar and calories. You are better sticking to a spirit and mixer or a glass of wine or weak beer if you want to keep the calorie count down.