Fan frenzy often means poor food choices and over-indulging.

Nutrition and Fitness, Your Health, Men's Health | 5 years ago

Avoid a Food Fumble: Eating Healthy During Football Season

Fan frenzy often means poor food choices and over-indulging.

Whether you’re watching from home, cheering at a local fan spot, or on the edge of your seat at the stadium, a game just doesn’t seem complete without high-calorie, high-fat snacks. Football and food play well together, except when they don’t.

Fans huddle up for nachos and wings, and excitement can lead to emotional – and often mindless – eating, says Elaine Jones, RDN, LDN, clinical nutrition manager with Atrium Health. “Stress causes the release of cortisol, which tells the body it needs to calm down,” explains Jones. “Food is comforting, and the go-to is highly palatable food.”

From fumbles to turnovers, stress can be at an all-time high for fans of the losing team in particular, making healthy eating even harder. Research proves food and alcohol consumption rises significantly among adults and students in cities after their NFL or university team loses. In fact, fans of losing teams consume 16 percent more saturated fat and are more likely to be obese than fans of winning teams.

“Feeding feelings is common, and there’s a pack mentality around food,” explains Jones, adding, “People aren’t good at self-regulating when they are excited or upset.” And in social environments, people are blind to normal physiological cues to choose healthy foods and stop eating when they feel full. Certainly, ‘misery loves company’ is in play, and mindless eating becomes a Buffalo-wing binge.

Salty chips and cheesy dips require an interception

Instead of grabbing a handful of chips or reaching for the second cookie, taking a walk and doing some deep-breathing exercises boosts serotonin, which drives down cortisol and cravings. People who are easily influenced by others may want to host the game-watching gathering because, according to Jones, they’re able to control the food that’s served.

“If you’re hosting a football party, a baked potato bar – with a choice of sweet potatoes, too – is healthy and fun,” says Jones. “Offer toppings such as grilled chicken, roasted peppers, avocado, nonfat Greek yogurt, herbs and low-fat shredded cheese. Or, make it a taco bar with ground turkey. Just avoid the vat of warm queso!”

Jones says homemade salsa is the best way to sidestep the sugar. “Toss together tomatoes, black beans, corn, bell peppers and cilantro with some lime juice and herbs.”

She also offers these suggestions to help sideline game-day gorging:

  • Be on the offense by drinking water and eating a healthy snack, or mini meal, before the game. Protein and fiber are filling.
  • Skewer berries, melon chunks and clementines to bench dehydration, which triggers salty and sweet cravings.
  • Layer colorful, fresh vegetables on a platter and serve with hummus.
  • Nibble on trail mix that includes unsalted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips.
  • Choose low-salt chips made with grains, such as quinoa and flax seed, and serve with black-bean salsa.
  • Reach for sea salt chips and popcorn in moderation. Being thirsty may increase alcohol consumption.
  • Serve small, lean beef (or turkey) burgers. Offer whole wheat buns and top with field greens or spinach, avocado and tomatoes.
  • Fill a crockpot with turkey or veggie chili and serve with shredded, low-fat cheese and Greek yogurt.