Millions of people are making plans to watch Sunday’s match between the Seahawks and the Broncos at a party, in a bar, or just at home. But Super Bowl Sunday brings us a lot more than a great game, multi-million dollar commercials, and a star-studded half-time show. It also serves up a heaping share of junk food and dangerously excessive drinking.
And just how much food packed with fat, carbohydrates, and sodium will be consumed during the Feb. 2 game? Roughly 11.2 million pounds of potato chips, 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips, 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, and 2.5 million pounds of nuts—and the list goes on. Altogether, we’ll eat approximately 30 million pounds of snacks, according to the Calorie Control Council, a trade group representing the low-fat and sugar-free food and beverage industries.
The council projects that the average Super Bowl watcher will scarf down 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat in snacks alone.
That sounds like a lot—and it is. A study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the average American consumed 2,173 calories a day; obese Americans consumed 2,281 calories a day; and people with a healthy weight consumed 2,111 calories a day. So Super Bowl snacking alone could account for well over half of your average daily calorie intake.
Can One Day of Overindulgence Really Hurt You?
Eating such a large amount of unhealthy food in one sitting doesn’t necessarily pose a health risk, according to Richard Krasuski, M.D., a staff cardiologist and director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center. Yes, consuming high-fat and high-sodium foods will lead to temporary increases in blood pressure and the amount of lipids in your blood stream. But if you are relatively healthy and don’t make Super Bowl–style eating a weekly event, you will most likely survive the day.
“If someone is entirely healthy and consumes an unhealthy amount of calories, carbohydrates, and fatty meals, there’s really good evidence demonstrating unhealthy lipids will be generated,” Krasuski told Healthline. “It’s not going to trigger a [cardiovascular] event necessarily, but markers of inflammation are elevated just by the effects of a single meal.”
However, if you have underlying health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, or a heart condition, you need to pay much closer attention to what you eat on game day.
For example, Krasuski cited a January 2006 article in the Journal of Renal Nutrition. This article examined the impact that eating at Super Bowl parties can have on hemodialysis patients. The study found that those who had attended parties had a statistically significant increase in serum phosphate levels, a measure of kidney dysfunction, as well as interdialytic weight gain, meaning more fluid that has to be removed during a dialysis session.
Further, a study released in 2000 at an American Heart Association conference found that eating a very large meal can quadruple your risk of suffering a heart attack two hours after eating.
Mitigating the Damage of Unhealthy Snacking
There are ways to mitigate the unhealthy impact of typical Super Bowl foods, according to Theresa Hedrick, a registered dietician with the Calorie Control Council. For starters, try not to hang out in the same room that the food is in, so it won’t be as easy to eat.
When you start eating, hit the veggie tray first, and try to fill up on that before going for the other options. And when you get thirsty, don’t just rely on beer and soda. Alternate it with water, she says, and you’ll see a major reduction in calories. She also suggests that you plan on exercising before kickoff on game day, as well as on the day after.
Super Bowl Drinking Dangers
For many fans, watching the Super Bowl just isn’t complete without drinking beers or other alcoholic beverages.
It’s not only the empty calories that should cause concern (about 150 calories per 12-ounce serving of regular beer). Drinking too much, even in the short term, can lead to elevated blood pressure, anemia, drowsiness, and impaired judgment.
Health experts say that women who consume more than one alcoholic beverage per day (a can of beer, glass of wine, or a drink with distilled spirits), and men who consume more than two, are at a heightened risk for health problems. Long-term consequences of excessive drinking include cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular disease, and even an increased risk of cancer.
If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to the game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and you find yourself freezing in your seat, drinking beer or other spirits won’t truly keep you warm, even though you might feel that way. That’s because alcohol actually lowers your core body temperature. All the alcohol does is cause your blood vessels to dilate, bringing more blood close to the skin surface, at the expense of lowering the body’s core temperature.
Another real safety threat on Super Bowl Sunday is drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 43 percent of all traffic fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday in 2012 were caused by drunk driving, compared with an average of 31 percent for the rest of the year.
And residents of Colorado and Washington have even more cause for concern. An analysis conducted by AAA Texas demonstrated that when the Dallas Cowboys played in Super Bowls in 1993, 1994, and 1996, alcohol-related fatalities and injuries increased an average of 29 percent in the Lone Star State. However, when a Texas team failed to make it to the big game, those fatalities and injuries on Super Bowl Sunday actually declined by 12 percent.
Safe Drinking on Super Bowl Sunday
A few tips can help make sure that either you or your guests don’t become a statistic. First, if you’re drinking with friends, always designate a non-drinking driver. If you’re hosting a party, provide food to prevent guests from drinking too much on an empty stomach—but minimize foods high in salt, as they can cause people to drink more. Also, have someone act as a bartender to control the amount of alcohol being poured into drinks. And stop serving alcohol 90 minutes before the game or party ends to give a chance for people to sober up, if necessary.