Super Bowl food: Are we getting the right message?

With Super Bowl Sunday around the corner, everyone is talking about the Harbaughs, Beyonce -- and of course, food.

While recipes for dips and party treats are being pushed out feverishly to the masses, so too are messages from nutrition advocates urging people to eat healthier and seek out alternatives to the worst calorie offenders for the big game.

That's not surprising, given the Super Bowl seems to have been lumped in with other food-centric holidays, such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

However, according to Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives in the Office of Community and Public Health at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, eating unhealthy during the holidays is not the problem. If it were, she told CBSNews.com, people would eat healthy for the other 345 days, and the food binging would balance itself out.

But, Copperman asks, "What happens to the leftovers after the Super Bowl?"

She argues that the message should be that bad habits can carryover after these eating "holidays," especially when the fridge and pantry are full of foods served during the festivities. Copperman explains that when healthier foods are present, people have a choice in what they're going to eat. However, when unhealthy food is readily available, you might not question your choice until you're halfway finished with that brownie.

"If you see it, you're going to eat it," she says. "If you don't, you need to make a decision."

And while there are healthier alternatives for commonly eaten Super Bowl snacks -- such as by making nachos with baked chips instead of fried, and using fat-free beans and low-fat cheese and sour cream -- Copperman says there's nothing stopping party hosts from giving their guests healthier options.

"There's no law that says you can't have a salad next to your nachos," said Copperman.

Dr. Charles Platkin, distinguished lecturer at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City, said he disagrees with some of the warnings put out from nutritionists. He thinks one of the problems is that people may hear a food is full of calories, but they may not know what that actually means.

To get the message across, Platkin -- who also is editor of DietDetective.com -- created a set of exercise equivalent reference points (see slideshow at left), so people can understand what they would have to do to burn off a particular food.

However, since it's the Super Bowl, he wanted to have fun with it. For example, his research found to burn off the 198 calories consumed from eating three pigs in a blanket, a person would need to play catch football for only 68 minutes straight. For six wings (each with ranch dip), a person would need to perform "the wave" a whopping 6,480 times, an equation he calculated from analyzing tape filmed at stadiums.

"It's ridiculous what I do, but it's for the cause of public health," Platkin joked to CBSNews.com.

Like Copperman, he urges people to be more aware about what they're putting in their bodies during these big food events. That's especially true for the Super Bowl, since people will be distracted by the game, commercials and halftime performance and will snack on anything in the vicinity. He sarcastically said that during an exciting game, people might eat cardboard if it's in front of them.

"Why not if you're going to have some of these things, at least know what you're consuming," urged Platkin.

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