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Mackie Shilstone / Fitness & Nutrition Expert

It's finally here football season on both the professional and college levels. Many New Orleanians have been waiting since January for football to crank up. Whether you are a fan of the Saints, Tulane or LSU, Saturdays and Sundays become prime time for grilling parties and family gatherings.

Since these weekend parties last through January, my best advice is to be smart, pay attention to your diet and plan ahead for healthy items on game day. What usually happens to most people is that they are surrounded by mainly unhealthy eating choices for a long period of time. Games themselves are at least three hours and then throw in the pre and post-game time, and you have been eating on and off for almost a complete day.

I urge you, however, to be mindful of what, and perhaps most importantly, how much you are eating. Chances are you will have a couple main courses and then pick on table snacks and desserts the rest of the time. There are ways you can have a great time while still staying true to your meal plan. That is why you need to plan ahead to make sure you have healthy choices available.

So, if you want to have a great time rooting for your favorite team while not crashing your diet, my top five healthy tailgating tips are:

1. Try a turkey burger You can still have your burger on game day, but turkey burgers are a great substitute for red meat.

2. Fresh fruit Occasionally, snacking during the commercials on a small bowl of fresh fruit will be a healthy alternative to dessert and will help to keep you feeling full longer.

3. Nuts When done in moderation, a hand full of unsalted nuts can be heart-healthy and satisfying.

4. Whole wheat bread Whether it hamburgers, hotdogs or finger sandwiches, see if the bread can be whole wheat. It is much healthier for you than enriched white bread.

5. Drink water Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks add huge amounts of sugar that can create spikes and dips in your glucose levels. Drink plenty of water instead, and you will feel better throughout the game.

For more helpful health information, visit www.mackieshilstone.com.

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