Super Bowl Sunday is fast approaching, and with it comes a seemingly mandatory menu of unhealthy, tailgating-inspired foods. Chicken wings, pizza, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, fries, chips, dip and more — all washed down with beer and soda — might taste good in the moment, but overindulging is guaranteed to make you feel awful the next day.

The good news is that practicing mindful eating during a day of indulgence doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. There are plenty of healthy swaps you can make to a game-day menu that won’t disappoint your scale or your taste buds. Dr. Heidi Ryan, MD, a general surgeon specializing in reflux and weight loss surgery at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, offers her advice for having a happy and healthy Super Bowl weekend.

What to avoid

Foods that are high in bad fats, such as saturated and trans fats, usually are the worst culprits on game day. These fats typically are found in processed foods, deep-fried or battered foods and foods that are high in partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable oil.

“In the short term, our bodies are slow to digest these fats, which can leave us feeling heavy and bloated,” Ryan said. “In the long term, too much unhealthy fat can damage our hearts and blood vessels, and predispose us to early cardiac disease.”

Ryan also suggests avoiding too much of the following:

  • Simple carbohydrates (such as flour and refined sugar) found in breads, sweets and alcohol, which can cause insulin spikes in the body
  • Phosphoric acid, found in cola drinks, which can interfere with the body’s ability to process calcium and cause teeth erosion
  • Caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and acidic foods for anyone prone to acid reflux

Healthy food swaps

If you’re setting your own game-day menu, there are many ways to make traditional Super Bowl fare healthier and still satisfying. “Most of what our taste buds crave is related to texture or a basic flavor, like salty or sweet, so we can give into our cravings without abandoning our health goals,” Ryan said.

  • Replace potato chips and fatty dips with whole-wheat crackers and a low-fat cheese spread.
  • Replace sour cream in dip with low-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Replace pigs-in-a-blanket with lunchmeat such as lean turkey rolled around a dill pickle.
  • Replace the snack foods you’d leave out in bowls — chips, Chex Mix or salty nuts — with olives, lightly-salted almonds or steamed edamame.
  • Replace hamburger patties with leaner meats such as chicken breasts or turkey burgers and whole-wheat buns.
  • Replace Buffalo wings with oven-fried cauliflower that has been tossed in a mild hot sauce.
  • Replace multiple cases of canned light beer with a few six-packs of high-quality bottled beer. People are more likely to be satisfied by one or two heartier, slow-sipping beers than they would be with several cans of light beer.

Tips for party guests

For people attending Super Bowl parties, navigating the food spread can be tough. While many unhealthy foods can be identified easily, there can be lots of hidden calories, fat and sodium in foods you might not suspect. Making the best choices you can while still affording yourself indulgent foods in moderation is key.

“It’s not just the type of food you’re eating; it’s also about the amount of food being consumed,” Ryan said. “Anything can be unhealthy if you eat too much of it, so moderation is also an important consideration.”

To avoid overeating, Ryan recommends the tips:

  • Don’t fill your plate. Eating small portions over a long period of time is better than eating a huge meal right from the get-go.
  • Once you’ve reached your allowance of party food for the day, have a low-calorie, healthy backup on hand in case you still feel hungry.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Set an allowance for how much you’re going to eat or drink during the party.
  • Before arriving, eat a small, healthy meal that includes vegetables and protein.
  • Don’t deprive yourself too much. “It’s OK to eat a couple chicken wings. Just don’t eat a dozen,” Ryan said.

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