This weekend's Super Bowl is creating excitement around the big quarterback matchup on tap: veteran Tom Brady versus wunderkind Patrick Mahomes. But even if you don't know a safety from a touchback, the game is a great excuse to cut loose on the diet, go wild on chips and dips, and spike nutritional common sense like a post-touchdown football.
It doesn't have to go that way, says Tamar Samuels, a registered dietitian and cofounder of Culina Health, a nutrition coaching and online education service. By scouting the nutritional threats in traditional big-game party fare and making smart substitutions, you can have a tasty Super Bowl Sunday without any penalty flags being thrown at the buffet. Here are some trades to make, plus smart eating strategies no matter what's on the coffee table.
Go for baked chicken wings
The challenge: Traditional Buffalo wings are deep-fried, then tossed “with a ton of butter and some sodium-laden hot sauce,” Samuels says. “Not exactly the healthiest option for your heart, waistline or digestive system."
The fix: Swap deep-fried for baked, Samuels says. “Marinate your wings overnight in olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices. To get them crispy like the fried version, bake them on high heat."
Swap the chips
The challenge: “Chips are incredibly easy to overeat because most of them have absolutely no protein and fiber,” Samuels says. To make matters worse, she says, a large handful of chips contains more than 150 calories. “Multiply that times 10 and you have got a day's worth of calories in an appetizer.”
The fix: “There are a ton of healthy chip alternatives out there,” Samuel says, recommending bean-based chips like those from Beanitos or Beanfields. You can also make your own healthy chip from vegetables, she adds: Kale chips and crispy roasted chickpeas are great options. Or consider ditching chips for popcorn — a great alternative, Samuels says, because that snack is lower in fat and calories than chips, and higher in fiber and protein. Her favorite brands include Skinny Pop, Lesser Evil and Bjorn Qorn.
Mix up a leaner dip
The challenge: According to Samuels, the average dip contains about 50 calories for just one tablespoon. “We don't know anyone who has one tablespoon of dip,” she says. “Most people have at least one-half cup of dip on any given occasion; that's 400 calories for just dip."
The fix: “We love swapping out sour cream dips with plain Greek yogurt-based dips to increase protein, decrease fat and get a boost of probiotics,” Samuels says. Just add your favorite seasoning mix to a cup of plain Greek yogurt for a slimmed-down version. Other tasty and healthy options are hummus-based dips, Samuels says: Add seasoning and tuck-ins like roasted red pepper to a hummus base, and it's a party. Finally, she recommends using sliced vegetables (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers) for dipping, as well as healthier chips.
Consider nontraditional Super Bowl spread ideas
No one says you've got to do wings, chips and dip. Consider serving lettuce wraps with tuna or chicken salad made with plain Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, Samuels says. Deviled eggs povide a high-protein snack option, or try high-fiber crackers with seasoned goat cheese. “These are quick, easy and healthy finger foods,” she says.
Use the teams for menu inspirations
This year's game pits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Samuels spots delicious inspiration for healthy, fun spreads from both teams. South Florida inspires fish dishes like ceviche, shrimp tacos with corn tortillas or lettuce wraps. And barbecue — that staple of Kansas City — “can actually be healthy,” Samuels says. “Choose barbecue chicken and leaner cuts of meat like sirloin, top round and bottom round.” Add some traditional barbecue veggie-based sides to the party: coleslaw made with olive oil and vinegar, collard greens, and string beans.
Expert tips for portion control
It's a long game, which can turn Sunday into a multi-hour meal. Samuels offers three suggestions for keeping a handle on portion control (useful on any day, in fact).
- Put your snacks on a plate instead of eating from the bag, bowl or platter. “We eat less when our container is smaller,” she says. Make a plate and stick to it. You can refill at the next TV time-out.
- Put your hand or utensil down between bites. You'd be surprised at how much this can slow down your consumption and up your mindfulness about how much you're consuming.
- Give yourself at least 20 minutes to finish a plate of food: “This is the estimated amount of time it takes for your digestive system to communicate to your brain that you're satiated,” she says.