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John Whyte, M.D., MPH Headshot

Fill Your Super Bowl With Whole Foods (Not a Whole Pizza)

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'Tis the season when many of us completely give up on all those resolutions to get healthy we made just a few weeks ago. I bet you were excited to lose a little poundage, and for a while, you might even have been making good on the promise you made to yourself when the ball dropped. You've exercised a little more, maybe walking or jogging two times a week for more than 15 minutes. You've been staying away from the junk food. You might actually be feeling healthier and starting to forget the way you used to feel -- tired, achy and unhealthy.

Just in time to take advantage of lapses in your memory, here comes food advertisers' new onslaught. Like a little bitty red devil perched on your shoulder, it's going to whisper to you, "You're healthy enough. You can afford to creep back into your old habits." After all, isn't the Superbowl the time to throw healthy foods aside and become gluttonous for a day?

Before you buy those 2 liter bottles of soda and multiple bags of chips, I ask you to try to remember why you made those New Year's resolutions to lose weight and eat healthy. Was it a gift to yourself? Maybe to look better or to feel stronger? Was it a gift to your loved one? Maybe to have more energy to play with your kids or even to model good habits for their own health? Whatever your reasons, you're about to have a barrage of advertising try to talk you out of it. Beers to burgers, chips to chocolates -- these commercials want you to buy and binge. Superbowl time is all about over-the-top commercials and over-the-top bowls (literally!) filled with foods that will set back your weight-loss goals.

So, with the big game coming up, what are you going to fill your bowls with to make them super? Old you: pizza, chips, beer, etc. New you: healthy whole foods that are satisfying and delicious. The big game doesn't have to mean a return to the couch potato of your former self and a little planning can save a lot of backsliding.

Just like the teams we'll watch on Sunday, you need to give yourself the chance to run play options. Blitz the bulge with foods that fill and satisfy for longer than four downs. How do you do that? Enter the concept of "whole foods." Generally, that means unprocessed and unrefined (or minimally so) foods. Think fresh fruits and vegetables instead of fruit-flavored drinks or processed cookies. Your body has to work harder to get the nutrients out of whole foods, which means you automatically burn more calories, just sitting around digesting your food. You can't say that about wings and chips!

Let's take a play-by-play approach, Madden-style, at why that matters. Instead of playing mediocre in the first quarter only to collapse in the second half, you'll be satisfied and have the energy you need to argue with your neighbor about who the greatest running back in the history of the game was. (Tony Dorsett of course -- duh!)

Here's where you need to be cautious: Go easy on the white breads or chips or donuts or sweets, because that'll kick-off a series of events. All that refined flour and sweeteners get absorbed quickly, your blood sugars go sky-high, your pancreas overreacts by trying to store all that excess sugar into fat, your blood sugar levels crash and now you feel exhausted only a half-hour into your second stuffed-crust deep dish.

But energy from whole foods is like Coach Don Shula's dream team -- consistent all the way to the fourth quarter. Try to get some of these players in your lineup: nuts, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, apple slices, orange wedges, celery, grapes and if you have to use bread, choose 100 percent whole grain. These foods keep the blood sugar from going too low so you'll feel energetic, but your blood sugars won't go too high either, so your pancreas won't be triggered to overreact and there'll be enough sugar in your blood for your entire body to have what it needs when it needs it.

Add to all of that, that whole foods generally have more cancer-fighting life-enhancing nutrition and are better for your intestines -- and you've got a clear first-round-draft pick for a great party. And since whole foods haven't had their special nutrients or fiber beaten out, you win big irrespective of who on the gridiron wins.

For more by John Whyte, M.D., MPH, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

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