Tips for eating well at the beach

What to eat on a seaside holiday

Italian summers are typically hot, which has an impact on our eating habits. There’s scientific research that demonstrates this too: the heat affects what we choose to eat and often the quantity as well. It is therefore important to be aware of some of the key aspects of our metabolism and our body’s nutritional requirements, this way we can adapt our diet correctly during the hottest months of the year and make informed choices at the beach - which is the most popular holiday destination in Italy in the summer.

Stay in shape in the summer

Holidaymakers who choose a relaxing break at the seaside can find that their habits change drastically compared to the rest of the year. Mealtimes often vary - as bedtimes become later and mornings start more gently, meals are delayed too. The quality of sleep can also deteriorate due to the high temperatures. There is more social interaction and entertainment to enjoy. All these aspects have an impact on dietary habits, and people who are less careful about their food choices may tend to eat too much, alternating between poorly balanced meals and overindulgence, with the risk of returning to everyday life a little bit heavier. To avoid any such side effects after a holiday, it is important to relax without forgetting the good habits we normally keep to during the rest of the year, which also help to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Rules for eating well in hot weather.

The core principles of the Mediterranean diet do not change with the seasons. Just as the holidays shouldn’t turn any exceptions to our usual varied, balanced diet into new rules. This starts with the number of meals to be eaten during the day.

There’s no reason to change the standard routine of three main meals, accompanied by two snacks. With the higher temperatures and more time available, some people might find it easier to have a bigger breakfast (than usual), then eat a bit less at lunchtime and make dinner the second most important meal of the day. Varying our eating patterns compared to the rest of the year in this way is quite feasible and won’t have any particular consequences, as long as we don’t overdo it. The evening meal shouldn’t be seen as a chance to eat everything we would otherwise have consumed during the course of the day (if not more) all at the same time!

Breakfast: making the most of your time.

While early mornings throughout the rest of the year are dominated by personal and professional commitments, on holiday we can usually devote a bit more time to breakfast. It’s good for our health to take advantage of this: not being in a hurry provides us with an opportunity to pay proper attention to what is still considered the most important meal of the day.

Nothing is strictly forbidden on holiday. So anyone who enjoys having breakfast in a café can relax knowing that it’s fine to allow ourselves this little treat some days. As a general rule, however, the staples should always be on the table in the morning: milk (or alternatives such as a vegetable-based substitute, yoghurt, or an egg), a cereal product (biscuits, cereal, bread, or alternatives like rusks, preferably wholemeal) and fresh fruit (there’s so much available in the summer: watermelon, melon, pineapple, peaches, apricots, blueberries). Adults can have a cup of coffee too, if desired. How much we eat at breakfast time on holiday may vary depending on how the days unfold, and whether the holiday is active or restful.

What should we eat at the beach?

Lots of people enjoy having lunch on the beach when they’re on holiday, and this is the meal that is affected most by the changes we make to our eating habits compared to the rest of the year. It’s not only a question of what time we eat, with meals often being delayed. Most of us would agree that eating in temperatures that sometimes exceed 40°C is not one of the most pleasant experiences. This is also confirmed by the findings of a study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Public Health. In particular, the authors of the article found that feelings of hunger, the desire to eat, and the amount consumed are lower at temperatures over 32°C than at milder temperatures. This is partly due to the increase in body temperature caused by the digestive process. Likewise, when the heat becomes oppressive, we feel full more quickly. This is why many people are opting for a light lunch in such cases, usually a meal with more vegetables and fewer carbohydrates (a well-seasoned salad, a cold pasta or rice salad, or a salad with other cereals, grains, or pseudo-grains such as amaranth or quinoa). There are no particular problems with this choice, as long as plenty of water is drunk throughout the day, especially during the hottest hours, to replenish the liquids and minerals lost through sweat. It's best to have an afternoon snack too to avoid being excessively hungry at dinner time. Just like mid-morning, the ideal snack between one main meal and the next is fruit.  

Ice cream on the beach – yes or no?

Ice cream is among the most common foods served at seaside bars and kiosks. But is it a food? From a nutritional point of view, what role should ice cream play when we’re on holiday? For many, ice cream is regarded as a snack, especially in the afternoon. There’s no real problem with this, for children or for adults, as long as everything that is eaten throughout the day is taken into consideration, together with the amount of time spent doing physical exercise. Striking the right balance between fruit-based ice cream and the richer cream-based flavours helps avoid blood sugar spikes. In general, it is best to choose craft ice cream, and fresh fruit flavours especially if ice cream is eaten as a substitute for lunch – but don’t do it every day!

Dinner time: nothing is off limits, but careful with alcohol and desserts.

After a light lunch, it’s fine to eat a bit more in the evening than we might otherwise during the rest of the year, without overindulging though. A single-course meal is a good option.

When dining out nothing is strictly banned, as long as every evening meal doesn’t include a starter, a first course, a main course and dessert. Pizza is fine too sometimes, preferably made with wholemeal flour, and it’s best to choose toppings that are not too elaborate, and which use seasonal ingredients. It’s important not to lose track of how much sweet food and alcohol are consumed on holiday (the latter should be avoided altogether, partly to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer). The risk otherwise is to get back home a little less healthy than before and with a bit of extra weight, meaning that the rest of the year is spent getting back into shape after just a short time away.

Pay special attention to what children eat.

Generally speaking, these guidelines apply to all age groups, both men and women (even more so during pregnancy). Extra care is needed with children and teenagers, however, so as to avoid too many exceptions to their usual diet during the summer. The first lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that when children don’t go to school and they stop their usual sports and exercise, the quality of their diet can also deteriorate, further increasing the risk of young people becoming overweight or obese. Even more than for adults, it is essential to enforce the habit of three main meals and two snacks for children and teenagers, ensuring that they don’t get up too late to prevent them from missing breakfast or skipping lunch, and limiting how many sugary foods they eat.