By Hollis Templeton, Fitbie.com
Big Game Sunday isn't an official holiday, but our eating habits would lead you to believe otherwise. On America's second biggest food consumption day of the year, armchair quarterbacks chow down on 30 million pounds of snack food, according to research from the Calorie Control Council and the Snack Food Association. The average spectator will take in 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat from foods like potato chips, nachos, pretzels, and popcorn alone. Then comes the pizza, chicken wings, chili, and booze that are part of any party spread.
RELATED: Steer clear of the 15 WORST Game Day Foods that throw serious penalty flags at your waistline.
While it's no revelation that a Big Game food binge delivers enough extra calories to last you a couple of days, what's less obvious are the frightening effects your favorite party foods can have on your health. Here's how high-fat or high-carb foods can stick you with a head cold, a nasty case of heartburn, or even a heart attack!
Football Food Fumble #1: A Cardiac Event
It takes years of eating a diet high in saturated fat--think fast food, full-fat dairy, and plenty of red meat--to generate the type of plaque buildup that would trigger a heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm. But a single day of feasting on fatty foods is still enough to alter the way your arteries function.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, three to five hours after eating a 900-calorie fast food meal containing 50 g of fat, 38 healthy adults experienced a temporary decrease in artery dilation, the widening that occurs when the volume of blood increases inside the vessel (downing a big meal requires the heart to pump more blood to the stomach and intestines to aid digestion).
RELATED: Healthy Game Day Food Swaps help you stay safe--and slim--by skipping that old-school fatty fare
While the likelihood that a plate of wings or a couple slices of pizza will cause a heart attack or stroke is extremely small, individuals with existing cardiac conditions should exercise caution, says Matthew Sorrentino, MD, a preventive cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical School. When you eat a meal that's high in fat, that fat hits the bloodstream and can slow down blood flow or force the arteries to narrow or constrict, which in theory can lead to restricted blood flow to the heart and other organs, he explains.
What's more likely to increase Big Game Sunday heart attack risk is the combination of high-fat food, alcohol, and the stress of watching your team compete, notes Sorrentino. "We can't measure stress like we can measure blood pressure and cholesterol, and it might be what tips someone (who has heart disease) over into a heart attack," he says.
RELATED: If your team loses, you don't have to gain. Easy Ways to Avoid Emotional Eating can spare you more post-game stress (from the scale).
If your blood alcohol content is at or above the legal limit of .08%, it can temporarily weaken or stun the heart, says Sorrentino, who recommends that men with preexisting heart conditions limit themselves to two drinks per day and women to one drink per day.
On top of fatty foods and alcohol, the emotional stress that fans experience when their team loses can increase heart rate and blood pressure. For people who already have heart disease or those who are obese, smoke, or have diabetes, that extra strain on the heart can be fatal.
In a study published in the journal Clinical Cardiology, researchers looked at death records in Los Angeles County for the two weeks that followed the 1980 and 1984 Super Bowls, which both featured LA teams. In 1980, when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the LA Rams after a comeback in the fourth quarter, heart-related deaths rose 15 percent among men and 27 percent among women in the two weeks following the game, compared to the same two-week period in 1981 through 1983. In 1984, when the LA Rams beat the Washington Redskins, cardiac-related death rates didn't change after the game.
The good news--finally--is that you can enjoy some standard big game fare while not upping your risk for a cardiac complication. Sorrentino recommends sticking to snacks that contain healthy, monounsaturated fat, like nuts, olives, and avocado. Scientists at the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that healthy fats may actually improve the ability of your arteries to accommodate blood flow.
Football Food Fumble #2: A Common Cold
After a couple of beers, you may not think twice about what's lurking in the salsa bowl sitting on the buffet table, but "double dipping" is a surefire way to share germs with your guests.
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Inspired by an episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza is confronted at a funeral reception for dipping the same chip twice, Clemson University researchers took a look at how much bacteria ended up in bowls of salsa, cheese dip, and chocolate syrup when study participants were instructed to double dip their crackers. Their study, published in the Journal of Food Safety, shows that three to six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from a snacker's mouth to the remaining dip.
When the researchers did the math, they concluded that since each cracker used in the study picked up one to two grams of dip, double dipping transfers 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with each bite, a saliva swap they compared to kissing or sharing a toothbrush.
Football Food Fumble #3: Heartburn
Go overboard with eating on Big Game Sunday and you (and your employer) could be paying for it come Monday morning. According to a Harris Interactive poll, 1.5 million Americans are likely to call in sick the day after the big game--and many of them legitimately feel ill.
Aside from hangovers, heartburn and indigestion are major culprits behind work absences and likely explain why antacid sales at 7-11 stores jump 20 percent the day after the Big Game. Although heartburn is more of a nuisance than a health hazard, fatty foods, spicy foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and lying down after eating can all trigger the unpleasant condition.
"One of the biggest causes of heartburn is eating too much at one time," says Alyse Levine, RD, of the Los Angeles-based nutrition practice Nutritionbite. "If you overfill your stomach, food comes up and pushes through the flap between the stomach and esophagus, allowing stomach acid to come up into the esophagus. Some foods, like wings, burgers, creamy dressings, and high-fat potato chips, also loosen that flap and contribute to acid reflux. Combining these foods with liquor also contributes to that physical occurrence."
RELATED: Make these Five Smart Cocktail Swaps to ensure your drink doesn't derail your diet.
Football Food Fumble #4: Lower Testosterone
There's nothing more macho than watching the game with a beer in one hand and your favorite snack food in the other, but our society's increasing consumption of processed foods--on game day as well as any day of the year--may be lowering levels of the male sex hormone.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, testosterone levels have taken a population-wide plunge in recent decades. Between 1987 and 2007, levels fell at a rate of about 1 percent a year. Researchers aren't quite sure what explains the trend, as their study controlled for obesity, which has been shown to lower testosterone levels.
Some speculate that the food we eat may be messing with our hormone levels, as the amount of processed, sugary snack food that Americans consume has risen sharply in recent decades. The USDA reports that the consumption of added sugars, ranging from table sugar to high fructose corn syrup, increased 43 percent between the 1950s and 2000. And this doesn't necessarily mean that our desire for desserts is in overdrive. Added sugars are hidden in many foods that are more savory than sweet, like pizza, hot dogs, tomato sauce, lunch meat, and salad dressings.
RELATED: Don't let hidden sugar sabotage you! Avoid added sugars with smart supermarket swaps.
The immediate effect of a huge dose of sugar on testosterone levels is pretty intense, making some scientists curious about what years of processed food consumption does to masculinity. Research from Massachusetts General Hospital shows that a large dose of sugar in the bloodstream (high-carb snacks break down into sugars once they are consumed) immediately lowers levels of testosterone. When 74 men drank a solution that contained 75 g of pure glucose, their testosterone levels decreased by as much as 25 percent and remained lowered for two hours after consumption.