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In the News

How to survive fair food: Once-a-year splurge is fine, but some choices are healthier than others

Saturday, July 21, 2012

by Alyssa Harvey, The Daily News, originally published on 7/21/2012

Do you wait eagerly for county fair season so that you can indulge in funnel cakes? That sweet treat will add 750 calories and 44 grams of fat to your thighs.

Maybe you think a corn dog sounds better. You’ll have to walk four miles to make sure it doesn’t expand your waistline.

Does the thought of a smoked turkey leg make your mouth water? Surely that has to be healthy – it’s turkey and it’s smoked. It’s worth it if you’re willing to pay the price of devouring 1,150 calories and 54 grams of fat. You’ll have to walk 11 miles to make up the balance.

The county fair may be a great place to enjoy wild rides, but it isn’t a place to go wild for the food, said Linda Howsen, registered dietitian with The Medical Center Medical Nutrition Therapy Program, who researched statistics for popular foods at county fairs.

“A splurge once a year at the county fair is OK. Make sure it’s a one-time splurge,” she said. “The problem is if it becomes once a week or once a day. We have to watch that because we tend to become a society of splurges.”

Part of the reason people tend to indulge more at fairs is because of mindless eating, Howsen said.

“It’s like watching TV and other activities and not focusing on the food,” she said. “It’s the lights, music, rides, talking – you tend to lose track of what you’re eating, and that’s a danger.”

Overeating isn’t the only hazard. Fair foods can be hard on the teeth. Dr. Devin Hall of Chandler Park Dentistry said that a variety of foods, particularly carbohydrate-laden ones, can cause tooth decay.

“When it comes to teeth and oral health, foods that you find at the fair are probably not going to do anything worse than typical food. A green bean can have a bit of sugar in it. If we eat that in the wrong way, that could hurt as much as bowls of M&Ms,” he said.

“I’m not one to tell people not to enjoy that type of thing,” he added. “The frequency gets us, but not the treat every now and then.”

Good oral hygiene is always important to keep the mouth in a healthy state, Hall said.

“After we enjoy them, there’s nothing wrong with getting a good toothbrush and floss to clean them up after that,” he said.

One of the better food choices may be a surprise since it’s sweet. Cotton candy has 170 calories and no fat, Howsen said.

“You have to walk for one mile to burn it off,” she said. “It’s a good option.”

Other healthier options include corn on the cob on a stick, fruit, a small ice cream cone, a pickle, a caramel apple, a small bag of popcorn with no added butter or a snow cone, Howsen said.

“It’s always about the portions. Smaller portions equal lower in calories,” she said.

When considering what to eat, check out the food choices, Howsen said.

“You don’t want to fill up on the high-calorie things before you check out the lower calorie choices. Think about three things you’re going to choose,” she said. “Don’t graze and have a little bit at this stand and a little bit at that stand.”

In fact, those considerations can be made before leaving home.

“Eat or drink something before you go to the fair. If you’re hungry before you walk in, you may choose high calorie foods,” Howsen said.

Seek out grilled food instead of fried food, Howsen said.

“When you look for grilled meat, look for one that’s not ground – pork chop (instead of) hamburger,” she said.

Walk as much as possible to help burn off the calories, and make sure to drink a lot of water, Howsen said.

“You need water so you will be hydrated because you’re going to be hot,” she said. “Take a water bottle and fill it at the water fountain.”

Stands featuring local foods may help with finding healthier options, Howsen said.

“Maybe a farmer has set up a stand with fresh apples and peaches or corn on the cob on a stick,” she said. “Eat it with less butter and a little salt or no butter.”

Sharing splurges will make all the difference, Howsen said.

“It’ll save each of you 400 calories with a funnel cake,” she said.

Most of all, remember that your body is not a trash can.

“It’s OK to throw food in a trash can. You don’t have to eat all of it,” she said. “It’s not going to hurt the trash can, but it can hurt you.”

Copyright 2012 News Publishing LLC (Bowling Green, KY)