Super thin Super Bowl spread

February 1, 2011

Like other food-centered celebrations, Super Bowl gatherings can be both fun and fraught with apprehension for those concerned about their waistlines. Nobody wants to sit on the sidelines, skipping the traditional snacks. But who wants to deal with postgame regrets? You can work football-fan food into your Super Bowl Sunday without padding your own end zone. As your coach, I've scouted some game-day favorites:

DIP DECISION

Hot artichoke dip

This gooey, rich concoction is meant to be scooped up with crackers, but who hasn't been tempted to just dig in with a spoon? Don't do that, okay? Because this dip's pretty potent (sample recipe from www.hellmanns.us ): 100 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat and 200 milligrams of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving. Sure, the artichokes add hardly any calories and even a bit of fiber, though a serving of dip only provides a single gram thereof.

Cook smart: Lower the calories and fat by using light mayonnaise. Drain and rinse the oil-packed artichokes to shave a bit of fat, calories and salt.

Eat smart: Instead of that spoon, dip with sturdy, cut-up vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Or try Triscuits: Six crackers have 120 calories, and with whole wheat as the first ingredient, they provide 3 grams of fiber. The new triangular Triscuit Thin Crisps are smaller, so you can eat more of them: Fifteen crackers have 130 calories.

Seven-layer Mexican dip

For just 39 calories and 111 mg of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving, you get, well, seven flavors (sample recipe from www.mccormick.com). The refried beans add fiber (1 gram per serving), the guacamole and olives supply heart-healthy fats, and the lettuce and tomato add some bulk but very few calories. You could load your tortilla chip with just those better-for-you layers, but that would be kind of rude.

Cook smart: Use reduced-fat cheese, sour cream and refried beans. Nobody will notice the difference. Use a reduced-sodium taco seasoning, or better yet, skip the seasoning altogether. Honestly, I've never used it, and my dip always gets eaten up. Finally, it takes only a few minutes to make your own guacamole, which gives you more control over the salt.

Eat smart: Veggies work well as a scoop with this dip, too, but tortilla chips are traditional. Tostitos, for instance, are made with corn - a bona fide whole grain - and provide 2 grams of fiber per serving. You can have 24 of the round "bite-size" variety or seven of the full-size triangles for 140 calories.

BUILDING A BETTER CHILI

Chili is a reliable crowd-pleaser, but its calories and fat can be out of bounds. Here's what to put in the pot to keep it relatively healthful without losing points for taste:

Onions: Diced onions sauteed in olive oil provide a dose of Vitamin C, folate, fiber and heart-healthy fat.

Black beans: The darker the beans, the more antioxidants. Make sure there are more beans than meat in your mix for maximum fiber. To keep sodium low, drain and rinse canned beans or start by simmering dry beans.

Canned diced tomatoes: Choose reduced-sodium varieties, and compensate by adding lots of chili powder and cumin, both of which are full of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes provide fiber and vitamins A and C.

Turkey or beef? You might think that ground turkey is better for you than ground beef, but it's a close call if you compare reduced-fat versions that are 93 percent lean, 7 percent fat. Measured against lean ground turkey, 100 grams (or just under 4 ounces) of lean ground beef has about the same number of calories (152 vs. 150), less total fat (7 vs. 8.3 grams) and a bit more saturated fat (3 vs. 2.2 grams). It also has less cholesterol (63 vs. 74 mg) and sodium (66 vs. 69 mg).

Eat smart: That's a pretty healthful meal, unless you load it down with cheese, sour cream and corn chips. Especially if you've been digging into the dips, you'd do best to forgo those toppings. Or sprinkle a tablespoon of chopped green onions on top; that'll set you back just seven calories.

On the other hand, if you're being careful about what you're eating, and a nice bowl of chili with all the fixings will make your Super Bowl just that much more super - well, it's your call.

SALTY SNACKS

It wouldn't be a party without one of those big party barrels of Utz Cheese Balls and ample Nacho Cheese Doritos . Neither product has any trans fats, and a 1-ounce serving of each (32 balls vs. 11 chips) delivers about the same amount of calories (160 vs. 150) and fat. To me, it's a toss-up: Doritos have a slightly better nutrition lineup (less sodium, slightly more fiber), but I'd get more satisfaction from 32 cheese balls than just 11 Doritos.

As for the pretzels and popcorn that probably will be sitting around, know this: About five standard, salted twist-style pretzels (about an ounce) will set you back about 106 calories and an incredible 380 mg of sodium; they have no fat, though, and provide a gram of fiber. Popcorn has a bit more fiber (3 grams per ounce, or about 31/2 cups), but oil, butter and salt add lots of saturated fat and sodium. As a party guest you can't be sure what's on it.

Eat smart: Five pretzels probably won't be enough for you, and popcorn has too many variables. Stick to cheese balls.

Candy bowl

M&M'sare the perfect party sweet. They're also potentially dangerous, as it is all too easy to inhale them by the handful. But unlike chocolate baked goods, they're a known quantity, so if you plan ahead, you can indulge without penalty.

Plain, dark, peanut and almond M&M's all have about the same number of calories (210 to 220) per quarter-cup serving. The new pretzel-filled variety has fewer calories (180) but way more sodium (180 mg vs. plain's 25 mg). Dark chocolate M&M's are the choice if you're worried about sodium (10 mg). As for the peanut and almond versions, each has less saturated fat (4.5 and 4 grams vs. plain's 6), but because they're bigger, you get fewer pieces per serving.

Eat smart: Before the party, measure a quarter-cup of something into your hand to see what a serving looks like. For me, it's about two palms full. If the goal is to have something to nibble on consistently throughout the game, stick with plain or dark M&M's and make up your mind to savor them slowly, one at a time. For more advice on choosing candies, read my column from Halloween.

For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog , follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to washingtonpost.com/wellness.

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