Have a Heart-Healthy Football Season

Updated:Mar 25,2014

Family watching football game cheeringCan you keep it healthy at the tailgate party or football-watching bash? Yes!

Football season is back! And the return of America’s most popular sport means the return of many beloved traditions – including lots of fried and fatty meats washed down with calorie-laden drinks.

But just because it’s football season doesn’t mean you have to pack on the pounds and put your heart at risk. In fact, you can do a lot to keep your tailgating and other parties heart healthy – without giving up the fun or the flavor.

Check out these helpful tips:

The meats
No tailgate is complete without a pile of meat on the grill. Just be mindful of which ones you’re firing up. Choose lean or extra-lean beef burgers, and keep the patties to the size of a deck of cards. Or try turkey burgers or salmon burgers, which are tasty and give you the essential omega-3 fatty acids your body needs. If you crave the traditional fried wings, try replacing them with grilled chicken breast strips tossed in a small amount of your favorite sauce.

Picking the healthiest meat isn’t the only healthy choice you can make. Be careful about how you season it. Resist a heavy shaking of the salt shaker; instead, throw in some chopped onions or extra pepper to spice things up. Choose 100 percent whole-wheat buns or make a lettuce wrap. Or you can cut your burger in half and have just one side of the bun.

The sides
At many football parties and stadium parking lots, there’s no shortage of chips or fries stacked high with chili, cheese and whatever else you can think of. However tempting they may be, you can fill up (and feel better later) by nibbling on vegetables throughout the game. “Load up on the veggies!” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., .a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a volunteer for the American Heart Association. “Have vegetables for dipping rather than chips. Serve plenty of salsa and bean-based dips rather than other high-calorie dips.”

Skewers are also a fun and flavorful way to snack. Load them up with onions and peppers, or throw some corn on the cob or zucchini on the grill.

The drinks
Beer and full-calorie sodas are usually plentiful at football parties and games. If drinking alcohol at games, just remember to use moderation.

“Try not to overindulge on alcoholic beverages,” Johnson said. “Too much beer, wine or liquor impairs judgment and can cause us to eat more.”

If you do get a beer at the game, try one with the least amount of calories and carbohydrates.

For those who choose to drink alcohol, the American Heart Association recommends limiting to an average of one to two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.)

As far as soda goes, you’ll usually find no-calorie options wherever the full-sugar kind is. Water is the best choice, though, especially at games early in the season where dehydration is a concern. If you want a little more excitement then just plain water, throw in some fresh fruit to give it a refreshing taste.

Tailgating do’s and don’ts

  • Choose your sides in moderation. Try to make sure your plate is colorful, with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink lots of water. You may be feeling hungry, but you may actually just be dehydrated. Stay hydrated.
  • Remind yourself to only eat if you are hungry – not just for something to do at the game. It may help to keep track of what you eat.
Learn more:
This content was last reviewed on 01/10/2013.

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