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Fat Festival? Calories in Food at the Fair

The scary truth about foods found at fairs, festivals, and amusement parks.
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Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

People go to festivals and fairs to enjoy the rides, games, animals, and bake-offs. But what really attracts the crowds is the food -- especially the fried food. And these days, the food at fairs, festivals, and amusement parks is scarier than the tilt-a-whirl or roller coaster! WebMD spoke to nutrition experts to get the truth about fat and calories in food at the fair.

Deep-Fried Diet Disasters

Food was no doubt served at festivals even before the nation's first state fair, held in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1841. But it was in 1904, at the St. Louis World's Fair, that fairgoers were introduced to the first real ''fast food'' -- hot dogs and ice cream cones that could be eaten as they walked, according to the statefairrecipes.com web site.

Since then, fair food has progressed way beyond caramel apples, corn on the cob, and nachos. There appears to be no end to what can be battered and deep fried -- cookies, candy bars, cheese curds, macaroni and cheese, pralines, chocolate-covered strawberries, even cola (the last made with a cola-sweetened batter that's deep fried and topped with cola syrup and powdered sugar). The Minnesota State fair, for one, boasts 54 varieties of food on a stick at this year's fair.

Most nutrition databases don't include fat and calorie values for such foods. But according to Lona Sandon, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, you can count on these foods to have a shockingly high level of fat and calories.

''My educated guess is a serving of fried cola dough, whipped cream and Coke syrup on top is roughly 830 calories,'' says Sandon. ''The fried macaroni and cheese is approximately 610 calories; the fried cheesecake in the ballpark of 500 calories; a fried praline will come in around 350 calories; and a tortilla-wrapped hot dog and cheese from the fryer about 550 calories.''

Here are more frightening nutritional figures, from the Calorie King web site, about fat and calories in food at the fair or festival:

  • Fried Snickers (5 oz.): 444 calories and 29 grams (g) fat
  • Fried Twinkie (2 oz.): 420 calories/34 g fat
  • Funnel cake (1): 760 calories/44 g fat
  • Twinkie Dog Sundae: 500 calories/14 g fat
  • Cotton candy: 171 calories/0 fat
  • Fried cheesecake (6 oz.): 655 calories/47 g fat
  • Foot-long hot dog and bun: 470 calories/26 g fat
  • Giant turkey leg: 1,136 calories/54 g fat

"Eating at a fair or festival can wreak havoc on your waistline because it is so easy to consume thousands of calories," says Christine Palumbo, RD.

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