They're romantic, they're relaxing, they're a perfect way to fill up a weekend afternoon and a good excuse to soak up some extra vitamin D. Who doesn't love a picnic?
But before you pack up that wicker basket, take a survey of your dinner. Dangerous food additives? Check. Pesticides? Check. Food poisoning? Check (maybe).
Some of America's most popular picnic foods harbor all kinds of unwanted junk, in addition to being just plain unhealthy. Whether you're trying to eat healthier, or you just want to avoid food poisoning, we've got healthy alternatives to these unhealthy basket staples.
Full of empty calories, those 140-calorie cans of convenience may travel well to a picnic, but they're full of preservatives linked to kidney damage and dyes that may cause liver cancer.
The cans themselves are lined with bisphenol A (aka BPA), a chemical linked to brain cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
Think fruit juice is any better? It really isn't. While you get some vitamins and minerals, you're still swilling a lot of sugar without the healthy fiber you get eating whole fruit.
Brew a pitcher of iced tea, and pack it in a mason jar. Full of antioxidants and low in calories, tea is a healthy drink without all the toxic food-packaging chemicals. Or try one of our 8 Healthy Sodas.
9 Disturbing Side Effects of Soda Filthy Grilled Shrimp
If your picnic plans include grilling, leave the imported shrimp at home. Between the banned antibiotics, pesticides, bacterial residues, rodent hair, and insect fragments frequently detected in imported shrimp, it's one picnic staple that deserves to get left behind at the seafood counter.
Hunt down wild-caught American shrimp for the cleanest alternative to the stuff imported from South America and Asia, recommends the nonprofit Food & Water Watch. If you can't find any, take along some smaller filets of wild Alaskan salmon for a great dose of omega-3s that can handle the heat of any grill.
Toxic Fruit Salad
Nonorganic fruits can harbor up to 64 different pesticide residues. Summer staples like nectarines, peaches, grapes, and blueberries have some of the highest levels, according to the Environmental Working Group's most recent Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Even with the pesticides, nonorganic fruit salad is still healthier than the other mayo-laden sides most people tote to picnics. But use as much organic fruit as possible to lower your exposure to pesticides linked to nerve damage, hormone disruption, and other reproductive problems.
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Genetically Modified Corn Chips
Nearly 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, designed to either resist herbicides or create bacteria that kill insects. A new kind of genetically modified corn is even being developed to resist one of the chemicals used in Agent Orange, the Vietnam-era defoliant that continues to sicken thousands of veterans.
Stick with brands made from organic corn, such as Garden of Eatin', or go for something completely unique. Beanitos are chips made with black beans, and contain the same calories (140) and fat (7 g) but way more protein than corn chips. Or shave off 30 calories by eating Late July Organics Mild Green Mojo chips, made with green chiles. At 110 calories per serving and 3 g fat, they're even made with flax and chia seeds, both chock-full of healthy omega-3s. Go a step further and make your own chips using healthy vegetables.
Poisonous Potato Salad
When was the last time you ate a potato salad that wasn't drowning in mayonnaise? In addition to being gut-busting, mayo-based sides are a food-safety nightmare, particularly in hot weather, when any foods containing mayo need to be in a cooler that maintains a temperature of 40ºF.
Swap out your mayo-based potato salad for a recipe that uses vinegar, like this recipe for New Potato and Snap Pea Salad. Lower in calories than mayonnaise, vinegar isn't going to curdle in the heat. Plus, vinegar slows your body's conversion of starches into sugar, and reduces blood sugar spikes. Ergo, you won't need to end your picnic early so you can head home for an afternoon nap.
Another mayo-heavy side, coleslaws you buy at grocery stores are usually made with tons of added sugar. Even if you buy the bagged coleslaw mix in the produce aisle and a separate dressing, you're still adding unhealthy amounts of sugar to otherwise healthy cabbage and carrots.
Here again, whip out the vinegar. It gives your coleslaw a nice tang without the added calories and food-safety risk. Give your picnic an Asian flair with something like this Thai Coleslaw with Napa Cabbage that uses fish sauce and rice vinegar, instead of fatty mayo, and has just a hint of sugar.
Porky Pasta Salad
Like any carb-heavy dish, pasta salads can pile on the calories faster than you can unpack your picnic basket. A single cup-size serving can dole out up to 350 calories, accompanied by an unhealthy dose of refined carbs.
Your body doesn't really crave heavy carbs in the summer time anyway (you've probably noticed that restaurants switch from marketing sandwiches to salads in the summer). Take along a regular salad of leafy greens with an oil-and-vinegar dressing. Need hints?
Cancer-Causing Cold Cuts
Think replacing your hotdogs with cold cuts will leave you with a healthier lunch? Think again.
Cold cuts are preserved with the same chemicals, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrate, used in hotdogs, chemicals that have the potential to cause various types of cancers if eaten in large amounts. Another reason to leave them behind: listeria. Deli meats are commonly contaminated with the bacterium, which thrives even at refrigerator temperatures.
Enjoy your meat, sans preservatives, by baking or cooking a roast or turkey or chicken cutlets yourself, and slicing or shredding the meat to bring it along on your picnic.
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Depressing Fried Chicken
Whatever you do to your home-cooked meats, don't kill the meat's nutritional value by frying it. And don't hit up your local fry joint, either.
The factory-farmed chicken most of those places toss into the fryer is regularly dosed with low levels of antibiotics that are suspected of causing antibiotic resistance, and a recent study from Johns Hopkins University found trace levels of caffeine, antidepressants, painkillers, and allergy meds in factory-farm chicken litter.
Try the aforementioned homemade grilled chicken in place of fried. And source it from your local farmer's market. Local poultry farmers who raise their birds on pasture don't use routine antibiotics dosing or arsenic in feed. Can't make it to the market before your picnic? Buy organic from your local grocery store. Standards for organic include bans on the use of antibiotics, arsenic, and many other unappetizing chicken-farming practices.
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