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Fat Festival? Calories in Food at the Fair

The scary truth about foods found at fairs, festivals, and amusement parks.

The Truth About Trans Fats

Common sense tells you to stay away from deep fried cheesecake. But in some states, like Indiana, they have decided to follow the lead of New York and KFC and try to make fried foods healthier by banning cooking oils containing trans fats.

Even without trans fats, however, fried foods are not exactly low in calories or fat.

"Using trans fat-free cooking oil is certainly better. But no matter how you look at it, that doughnut is still a doughnut and it is still fried, and anytime you fry foods you pump up the fat and calories," says Joan Salge-Blake, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Fair Food Choices

So just what can a health-conscious person find to eat and drink at fairs, festivals, and amusement parks?

"You can find healthier choices on the menus at the state fair. Cotton candy, also knows as spun sugar, is among the least offensive foods at the fair," says New-York based nutrition expert Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS, RD. "Look for fruits, vegetables, lean meats, pickles, corn on the cob (hold the butter) -- even caramel apples are better than most fried foods."

There are more options than there used to be, at least at Disney amusement parks, says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA, an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

"Fruit and water carts are all over the parks showcasing chilled, cut fresh fruit that kids and adults love, especially on hot days, along with cold water and sugar-free drinks," says Ayoob, who served as a nutrition consultant to Disney.

You can still get burgers and fries, but Disney is featuring healthier kids' meals, such as lean wraps paired with choices of fruit and veggies and water, juice, or low-fat milk.

Dietitians also offer these tips to help take the scare out of fair foods:

  • Don't arrive hungry. Eat before you go so you can limit your food to a few treats instead of grazing on food all day long.
  • Go early in the morning, when you may be less likely to be enticed by the aromas of food.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially when the weather is hot.
  • Check out all the offerings first, then choose three items over the course of the day.
  • Ask for an extra plate and share your food choices. This way, you can taste a variety of foods without doing too much damage, says Palumbo.

The real problem with fair and festival food, dietitians say, is mindless eating. That's what happens when you're walking and talking, and before you know it, that food on a stick has disappeared.

"It is better to find a place to sit down, enjoy the food, eat it slowly so you can recognize when you are full," says Palumbo.

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