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IU Health & Wellness: Savvy snacking at Super Bowl parties, concussion myths

Research and insights from Indiana University

Feb. 3, 2011

IU Health and Wellness for February discusses the following topics:

Winning eating strategies for Super Bowl weekend
Myths about concussions
Cold and flu prevention at the gym


Photo by Rick Audet

Be a fan, not a patsy. Food plays no small part in Super Bowl weekend festivities and the major food manufacturers know it. With a football culture steeped in tailgates and sports bar fare, which typically includes a core selection of high-calorie sandwiches and sides, for many food manufacturers like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay this weekend could be as significant as Thanksgiving or Christmas. And just as marketers for the food industry have their strategies to boost sales, sports fans can create their own strategies to avoid over-eating while they cheer for their favorite team, says Antonio Williams, sport branding and fitness expert in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. First strategy, watch out for "ambush marketing" by food manufacturers. They're targeting you, sports fan. "This type of marketing occurs when a corporation or a food brand that is not affiliated with the Super Bowl itself markets itself as if it is," Williams said. The bakery section in grocery stores, for example, will be selling cookies and cakes with the colors of the football teams playing in Sunday's game. For regular shoppers, the store now doubles as the "go to" place for game day party preparation. "These companies are playing off of our emotions," Williams said. "They know what they're doing. Many people attend football parties for the experience, not just the game. Because food is such a big part of the 'experience,' sports fans and their parties provide a huge market."

Williams suggested the following strategies to avoid high-calorie traps at parties this weekend:

  • Try to stay away from processed foods that contain high levels of sodium, unnecessary sugars, and chemicals. These ingredients often trigger false hunger that can lead to excessive eating. An alternative to frozen appetizers and other processed foods is dishes made from real, whole ingredients, prepared with techniques such as grilling or baking instead of frying. This approach can save considerable calories and money.
  • Alcohol is a common item at most football parties. It is often considered to contain "empty calories," meaning the calories in alcohol do not provide health to the body, only weight gain. Alcohol can also inhibit the drinker's ability to perceive a feeling of being full, which can lead to greater eating. If alcohol is a must-have, it is best to opt for light beer and wine over mixed drinks and punches loaded with calories and sugar.
  • Thinking about serving sizes helps with portion control. Use measurement tools (like teaspoons and tablespoons) to portion food ahead of time, like nacho cheese usually served from a ladle. Using smaller plates will help reduce portion sizes. Keeping separate food items on the side, like salsas and salad dressings, is also a way to control portion sizes.
  • Do not attend a football gathering on an empty stomach. "Make sure to eat something high in protein or healthy fat before you go to a sports party," Williams said.

Williams can be reached at or 812-855-3061. Top

Darius Willis

Photo by Mike Dickbernd/IU Athletics

Myths about concussions. Concussions have become big news as everyone from high school coaches to members of Congress grapple with how to prevent and manage these age-old and unwanted casualties of sport. Suddenly, elite and recreational athletes seem to be experiencing an 'epidemic' of head injuries. In actuality, says Douglas McKeag, M.D., director of the IU Center for Sports Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, physicians are seeing about the same number of concussions as in the past, perhaps a few more as public awareness grows.

Here are some myth-busters:

  • Helmets of any kind do NOT prevent concussions. They do, however, prevent serious head injuries such as skull fractures and subdural hematomas (bleeding on the brain).
  • Tests exist that can tell if a person's brain function is diminished -- but NOT how serious the injury may be.
  • Concussions not only occur accompanied by dramatic symptoms, such as disorientation, loss of consciousness and photophobia, but many occur without obvious symptoms
  • There is NO way to PREDICT the course of a concussive injury. Each concussion is unique and generally unpredictable. Neurocognitive testing, such as ImPACT, can help experts know where someone is in recovery of their cognitive symptoms, including memory and executive functioning.
  • Returning to participation should be done with the help of trained medical personnel, such as a sports physician or athletic trainer. McKeag expects this to be required by state law in Indiana within the year. Several other states have passed legislation involving concussion management and a law has been introduced in Congress.

McKeag, OneAmerica Professor of Preventive Health and Family Medicine, can be reached at the IU Center for Sports Medicine at 317-278-0350 or at Top

Staying healthy at the gym. During the cold and flu season, good hygiene at the gym is more important than ever. As with other public spaces, the gym or fitness center can become a breeding ground for germs that can lead to colds. Repeated contact with surfaces like sweaty exercise machines can make it difficult to avoid becoming sick this season. "One hundred precent cold prevention is difficult, particularly in public spaces," said Andy Fry, assistant director of Fitness and Wellness of Campus Recreational Sports at IU. He suggests a few tips to keep you healthy while using the gym this winter season:

  • Wash your hands frequently because everyone touches the same things over and over again.
  • Use the available sanitizing spray to wipe down the machines you are using both before and after use.
  • Bring your own hand towel to wipe yourself or the machine. This can cut down on possible germ contact.
  • Be sure to wear shorts of an adequate length and shirts with full sleeves to limit skin-to-machine contact.
  • Shower and change into fresh clothes immediately after exercising to prevent the spread of germs.

Fry said that when men and women have difficulty catching their breath during simple workouts because of inflammation or a cough, chances are they are too sick to exercise or attend exercise classes. Instead of putting strain on their bodies -- and risking infection to those around them - they should stay home and rest. Taking care of one's health at home, he said, is the quickest way to return to good health and to productive workouts at the gym.

Fry can be reached at 812-855-9653 and Campus Recreational Sports is part of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

For additional assistance with these items, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and