What we eat on Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, is a good reflection of our eating habits throughout the season. Long, warm days are often marked with beers on the patio, barbeques in the backyard and ice cream after dinner. But do we eat these foods more out of tradition or do our cravings change with the season? Turns out, the answer is a little bit of both.

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“In the summer months, you want to stay cool and sometimes people tend to get more into the realm of salads and lighter meals,” says Marissa Puelo, registered dietitian. She explains that heartier meals like oatmeal are often swapped out for cereal as you no longer crave dense, warm foods.

Lisa Cohn, registered dietitian, believes many of our summer cravings relate back to hydration as people tend to be more active and thirstier.

“If you’re outdoors and you’re working or you’re outdoors and playing you want something thirst quenching with sugar,” she says citing refreshing options like lemonade, sweet tea or alcohol as the most popular picks. In fact, the dietitian has noticed many people who don’t drink in the winter months will take it up in the summer.

A survey by Nielsen supports Cohn’s observations as more than 60 percent of Amercans say they’re looking for something refreshing to drink during the warmer months. Rose’ wines have become synonymous with summer and are the preferred choice by 20 percent of regular wine drinkers and 40 percent of females between 21 and 34 years old.

Of course, much of those alcoholic beverages are consumed in social settings, which both experts agree contribute to food choices.

“The ice cream truck isn’t there in the wintertime, at least in certain parts of the country,” says Cohn. “Seasonally, it’s kind of fun. It’s a social pleasure that people look toward.”

Puelo says that the number of graduation, wedding and outdoor parties lends itself to eating more treats like ice cream as they are readily available. Plus, just seeing the food could stimulate a craving, kind of like when someone brings donuts into work and you need one even though you weren’t thinking about them.

Not all cravings are so-called bad-for-you foods. The summer also brings about the desire to eat seasonal things like watermelon, peaches and berries. Cohn partially attributes this to spending more time outside the house. “When people are outdoors more their sense of smell gets tuned in,” she says. We breathe better, feel more connected to nature and enjoy its aromas, which help trigger memories. In turn, memories often trigger cravings, which is why a summer BBQ might cause us to want a burger.

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“They picture people in the backyard. They’re having a good time. They usually have a craving that is not just about the food, it’s the setting that the food is in,” says Cohn.

Although many people try to ignore cravings, not wanting to give into fattening and sugary foods, Puelo says that only causes more binge eating.

“The problem is when we try to put a bandaid on our hunger and don’t ever feel fulfilled,” she says. “Have the cookie, enjoy every bite, and move on.”

See Also:

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