Quick: What's the most popular food eaten during the Super Bowl? Chicken wings? Pizza?

Would you believe … vegetables?

NPD Group, a marketing research firm tracking Americans' eating habits, stands by its study, although it missed the crucial follow-up question:

Into what bowl of creamy fat are we dipping those mini-carrots?

Chicken wings, according to the survey, are way down the list in seventh place. Pizza's in ninth place, tea in 10th.

The study clearly reveals that Americans are growing impressively healthy or, more likely, impressively skilled at lying to pollsters.

Tea?

Still, it all seems harmless to me, and I have to say it's not the most stunning statistic I've come across this week.

That honor goes to the National Retail Federation (NRF), which claims that 184 million viewers 18 and older said they'll be watching Sunday's game pitting the New England Patriots against the Seattle Seahawks.

One hundred and eighty-four million? There are only 310 million of us Americans altogether. I called the NRF to ask one question:

Really?

"The number is correct, based off our consumer intentions survey," said NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. "It's pretty outstanding," she said.

Pam Goodfellow, spokeswoman for Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the online survey for the NRF in early January, agreed. Since 2009, her consumer trends company has "consistently" found numbers in this range, "although these are the largest numbers we've seen."

Last year's Super Bowl was the most watched program in U.S. television history, according to Nielsen. (Although Nielsen's numbers were closer to 112 million viewers, it's still pretty outstanding.)

Part of the Super Bowl's popularity, Grannis surmises, comes from a soaring growth in social media. "Consumers have a very real connection to many of these brands," she said. "You want to be a part of the game.

"It doesn't hurt when a dynasty-type team like the Patriots is headed in."

Broken down, nearly half of the respondents to the NRF poll said the game is king, and about one-third are divided equally between excitement about the commercials or the camaraderie of family and friends. About 12 percent tune in for the halftime show.

So, let's just say the NRF's numbers are right and that 184 million Americans, on this very day, give or take a few hundred thousand, will be crunching carrots and watching Super Bowl XLIX.

Nothing compares

I realize these aren't apples to apples comparisons, but it's interesting to consider what comes close to uniting Americans like a Super Bowl can.

Spoiler alert: Nothing does.

We're all on Facebook, right? Well, 134 million of us are.

We're invested in the democratic process. Approximately 118 million Americans cast a vote on Election Day in 2012. About 32 million Americans watched President Obama's 2015 State of the Union address.

We like to give back. Sixty-three million of us volunteer annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We love movies. Ellen DeGeneres delivered 43 million viewers to the 2014 Academy Awards.

We pay homage to America's pastime. Game Seven of the 2011 World Series featuring the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals set a record: 25 million viewers.

We're demanding more television programming catering to families. Nearly 18.5 million viewers tuned in to the live TV performance of "The Sound of Music."

We've warmed to zombies. "The Walking Dead" wrapped up its most recent season with 12.4 million viewers. We'd just rather not do the walking ourselves. Only 5 million of us visit the Grand Canyon annually.

We like our food fast, fatty and close at hand. The 2014 Minnesota State Fair drew more than 1.8 million people in 12 days. Twenty people participated in Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York. (I was curious.)

So, it's true. We love our Super Bowl like nothing else America can come up with. I have a few theories about why this might be true.

It's not Thanksgiving.

The food is still a highlight, and really good, but it's way easier than getting the stuffing cooked right.

Plus, we get to invite over people we really like to hang out with for four or five hours. Our emotional energy can be placed on players and teams we don't know, instead of challenging relatives and friends we do.

It's not Christmas, either. We don't have to exchange gifts.

We're not yelled at for watching television. We don't have to use our indoor voices.

"This is a purely discretionary gathering," Grannis agreed. "You don't even have to spend money — just cross the street in your favorite jersey."

And munch carrots to your heart's content.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

News researcher Sandy Date contributed to this column.