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Turkey legs, fried Twinkies and other fair foods you should probably avoid

People say they hit fairs, carnivals and festivals for the music, crafts, rides and people watching.

But judging from the lines at summertime concession stands in these parts, the fried Twinkies, funnel cakes and nacho cheese covered curly fries are really what packs them in.

“(People) go because they remember the taste and sight of the funnel cake,” said Pat Fiducia, a nutrition and weight-loss expert for CalorieKing and its website. “The problem is that most of this food is deep fried, breaded and is in saturated fat.”

From the smoked turkey leg with its 1,136 calories and 54 grams of fat to that beloved 995 calorie Puff-on-a-stick, there are potential health hurdles at every stand.

“The people who do overeat at the fairs don’t look at it as a health hazard,” Fiducia said.

Before they know it, she said, fair-goers can take in two to three times the amount of fat and calories needed for a day.

Miami Valley Hospital nutrition therapist Debra Thompson said it is easy to lose focus. “(People) are kind of mindless eaters. They are walking and talking and before they know it, they have consumed thousands of calories in the food,” she said.

Moderation should reign supreme as the fair queen. A little preparation can go a long way to avoid too much overindulgence, Thompson said. Fiducia and Thompson offered the following tips for surviving fair season and its fatty foods:

Don’t arrive hungry

“The trick is to eat a little bit before you go, then you (aren’t as hungry)” Fiducia said. “Starving people make poor eating decisions.”

Share alike

Thompson suggested splitting fatty treats among friends. “We don’t want to rain on your parade. It’s about sharing that with other people so no one overindulges or takes in a shocking amount of food,” she said.

Try foods that are better for you

While Fiducia pointed out there is probably no “really” healthy fair food, she and Thompson said there are healthier options. Thompson suggested looking for fruit and fruit drinks as well as items with vegetables and meats that have been grilled instead of fried. Fiducia said items like corn dogs, corn on the cob without all the butter and caramel apples are better than fatty, high calorie options like funnel cake and fried cheesecake. “Ice cream, when you compare it to a deep fired Twinkie, is pretty good,” she said.

Plan ahead

“The more variety you have, the more you eat,” Fiducia said. “At fairs, there are tons of variety.” Fiducia suggested planning out what you will eat and limiting it to those things.

Not too much booze

While a glass of wine doesn’t have as many calories as nachos and cheese, Fiducia said too many glasses and your inhibition might drop, leading you to eat more than you planned.

Limit the special occasions

Fiducia said people routinely give themselves permission to splurge for special occasion. The problem is that special occasions — weekends, birthdays, weddings, fairs — are rampant, especially during the summer, she said. “(That means) 30 percent of the time you are eating horribly and the other 70 percent of the time you are probably just eating bad,” she said.

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Article was originally published in the Dayton Daily News print edition on June 04, 2010.

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