9 Tailgate Foods That Won't Blow Your Diet

Put down the bratwurst! These better-for-you snacks won’t tack on extra points to your waistline

September 15, 2011
People tailgating
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From heavy beers to cheese-drenched nachos and giant brats, game day often revolves around a smorgasbord of fatty foods. That's what football season is all about, isn't it? Go ahead, have your fun, but tailgating doesn't need to be a total dietary fumble. Here, Amy Regina, RD, offers suggestions for foods that will win over the crowd without packing on pounds.

Want to throw an A-list NFL celebration at home, without breaking your budget? Here's how.

hoagie without cheese
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Hoagie (without Cheese or Mayo)

Steer clear of the Italian hoagie with its high-fat salami, and choose turkey, ham, or even roast beef, Regina says. For every slice of cheese you take off your sandwich, you'll save about 100 calories. When it comes to condiments, skip the mayo and opt for mustard, vinegar, and additional vegetables, such as lettuce, tomato, and hot peppers and you'll save close to 90 calories and 10 g of fat. Choose the right filling and go easy on the fixings, and your sandwich will time-out at around 400 calories, instead of 600 to 700. (Search: The healthiest sandwiches)

Plain sandwiches on 5 1/2" bread: turkey or chicken, 351 calories, 11 g fat; ham, 368 calories, 19.8 g fat; roast beef: 350 calories, 10.9 g fat

Barbeque chicken breasts on a grill
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Barbecue Chicken (without Skin)

Skip the chicken wings, which are fried before they're doused in buffalo sauce, and prepare barbecue chicken instead. "When anything's fried it automatically doubles calorie content," Regina says. And with chicken wings, you're often eating more skin than actual meat. You'll get more protein and less fat when you grill larger cuts. Chicken breasts are leanest, but even legs and thighs offer more meat than wings.

Grilled chicken breasts with homemade BBQ sauce (4 oz): 149.6 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 25.9 protein                                 

Related: 200 delicious recipes under 400 calories

Pulled pork sandwich
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Pork Tenderloin or Pulled Pork

The other white meat serves up about the same number of calories as a skinless chicken breast. It also contains B-12 and B-6 vitamins, which help your body metabolize fat and aid your immune system. The leanest cuts are loin and rounds, Regina says.

Pork tenderloin, cooked (4 oz): 184 calories, 35.4 g fat, 31.6 g protein                                   

Video: The Best Tailgate Foods for Your Gut

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Instead of nachos topped with chili and cheese, crush a few tortilla chips on top of a healthful bowl of chili, she says. You'll enjoy the same flavor profile, get a lot more protein and fiber, and fewer calories. Make a chili with turkey or lean ground beef and load it up with good-for-you beans and vegetables.

Turkey and bean chili: 237.8 calories, 5.3 g fat, 7.2 g fiber, 18.2 g protein

Chips and salsa
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Baked Tortilla Chips and Salsa

As far as chip dips go, salsa's your best bet, offering about 8 to 15 calories per ounce, a sharp contrast to creamy dips that contain nearly 5 times the calories and about 5 g of fat. Baked tortilla chips will save an additional 20 calories per serving and contain half the fat of regular chips. Better yet, grab some veggies off the platter and dunk them in salsa instead of the fatty ranch dip that typically accompanies them.

Baked low-fat tortilla chips (1 cup): 133 calories, 1.8 g fat, 1.7 g fiber, 3.5 g protein
Salsa (1 oz): 8 calories, 0 g fat, 0.5 g fiber, 0.4 g protein

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Pass on chips and pretzels for this salty snack. The high-fiber treat contains only about 100 calories per 3-cup serving. Just 15 potato chips, on the other hand, pack 160 calories and 10 g of fat.

Popcorn, low-fat, popped in oil (3 cups): 93 calories, 2.2 g fat, 3.2 g fiber

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chicken kebab
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Chicken Kebab

Stack chicken and your favorite veggies on a skewer and cook them over the grill. You'll load up on lean protein and nutrient-rich veggies without consuming the extra calories that come from sandwich buns.

Chicken kebab made with skinless chicken breast, red and green peppers, and onion: 218.25 calories, 5 g fat, 1.6 g fiber, 35 g protein

Related: 50 Protein-Packed Dinners

Portobello burger
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Portobello Mushroom Burger

At about 30 calories apiece, mushroom burgers contain a fraction of the calories and fat you'd get from a 200-calorie beef patty. Additionally, the mushroom serves up healthy doses of folate, selenium, and fiber.

Portobello burger with mozzarella cheese: 388 calories, 16.9 g fat, 4.6 g saturated fat, 584.2 mg sodium, 44.3 g carbohydrates 2.7 g fiber, 13.7 g protein

bottles of water
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Not to sound like the fun police, but switching from suds to good old H2O will save you hundreds of calories over the course of a tailgate. "We recognize the calories we're eating but not those we're drinking," Regina says. If you opt for a light beer, instead of a dark, you'll save about 60 calories per bottle, but you'll still be taking in about 100 calories for every drink. As a compromise, alternate between beer and water every other drink.

Water: 0 calories, 0 g fat

Up next: 5 Healthier TV Snacks