Whether you’re headed to your state or county fair or to an amusement park, you’ll find food choices that are as fun as the rides. But some of these foods will cause a diet roller coaster, too.
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Use the tips below to enjoy the best the fair or festival has to offer — and skip the worst.
1. Corn on the cob. It’s sweet, crunchy, smoky and loaded with whole grain fiber. Corn gets a bad rap because it’s the main ingredient in high fructose corn syrup, but the real cob has all the real health benefits of whole grains, which have been linked to decreases in heart disease, cholesterol and colon cancer. Skip the butter, and you’re good to go! (Try it these with these healthy options!)
2. Grilled chicken. Chicken is a staple at the fair, but it usually comes breaded and fried. Seek out grilled chicken instead, which is better because grilling allows fat and oil to drip off. As a bonus, chicken contains tryptophan, an amino acid that triggers release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps calm your nerves — maybe a good thing when you ride the tilt-a-whirl after your food digests.
3. Fruit cups. The fair is filled with bright lights and bright colors, so why not add some brightness to your plate, too? During the summer many fruits are at peak season both in taste and nutritional value. Best of all, fruit is loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants.
4. Roasted nuts. Roasted nuts contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have numerous health benefits. In addition to helping reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke, nuts also can help you stay full longer, so you can stay hours at the fair without bingeing on sugar. Just be sure to get plain roasted nuts, with no added sugar.
5. Cotton candy. This pink or blue sticky “treat” is just sugar spun into a prettier form, complete with artificial colors. It will add about 25–35 grams of sugar to your diet for the day. Given the current recommendations set forth by the American Heart Association, that’s your entire total allotment for the day.
6. Corn dog. This fair favorite is essentially a little bundle of nitrates in a convenient package. A true chemical cuisine, corn dogs are loaded with calories, trans fat and calories. Further, there is plenty of evidence linking nitrates and nitrites to cancer, as well. Skip the corn dog.
7. Pulled pork. Here’s what you get from a pulled pork sandwich: refined grain (in the bun), lots of syrup (in the sauce), and tons of saturated fat (from the pig), plus excessive calories and sodium. You’re better off with the grilled chicken mentioned above.
The really ugly
8. Deep fried everything. From deep fried sandwich cookies to deep fried butter, the frying trend at fairs is clear. The foods being fried are often unhealthy on their own, but the frying method itself is the main cause for concern. Studies have linked the deep frying method with compounds that increase risk for prostate cancer and neurodegenerative disease, among other risks.
9. Elephant ears. Forget the cute name. These sugar bombs make you hungry for more soon after eating them. If your night at the fair lasts 4 hours, this could be a recipe for disaster. On top of that, a typical elephant ear contains 500–700 calories. Given that you only need to consume 500 extra calories a day to gain a pound in a week, too many of these fried dough disasters over the summer could mean tighter pants in the fall.
Jasmine El-Nabli contributed to this article.