CAYUGA, Ind. —
Nothing says summer like county fairs and the dizzying array of midway food.
Everything from cotton candy to elephant ears and funnel cakes to corn dogs … how can one resist?
Well, the temptation might be a little easier to fend off if the fair-goer realized the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of his or her favorite carnival fare.
“As a dietitian, I tell people all food can fit into a healthy diet,” said Carol Shriver, regional clinical nutrition manager for Provena Central Illinois Region.
“However, fair food is high in fat, high in sodium and they’ll fry anything,” she said.
Shriver said fair-goers can allow themselves that one tasty treat from the midway, especially if they usually adhere to a healthy diet every other time of the year.
“If they eat a healthy diet throughout the year, I tell people they can eat one thing at the fair,” she said.
So what’s Shriver’s one fair food downfall?
“I will allow myself to eat a funnel cake once a year at the fair,” she said.
Shriver said she also enjoys the onion rings made by one particular vendor at the Illinois State Fair and refuses to “waste the calories” on just any ordinary onion rings.
Adults sometimes find it easier to exercise self-restraint when it comes to tempting, tasty treats, but what about children?
Youngsters have a tendency to want all those sugary, not-so-good-for-you confections.
“It’s a challenge for parents because parents eat fair food, too,” said Maria Sermersheim, who is certified to teach nutrition and most recently was a program director with the University of Illinois Extension Office.
“There are not many options that are healthy and nutritious, but some options are better than others,” she said.
Rather than purchasing an elephant ear or cotton candy for a child, Sermersheim said a corn dog would be a better choice because “at least there are two servings of food groups: grain and meat.”
“The optimum meal is three out of five food groups,” she said.
Sermersheim said parents also should try to give their children a good, healthy breakfast if they are going to be at the fair around lunchtime.
“It should be something light on calories but nutritious,” she said.
“If you’re going to the fair for supper, feed them a good breakfast and good lunch, and then you won’t feel guilty telling them ‘no’ and they’re not going to overeat,” she said.
Sermersheim advises, “It’s OK to eat ice cream and chocolate, but you have to have a balance.
“You should have it as a treat,” she said. “And with fair food, you should not have it every day or every week.
“It’s about food choices, portion sizes and balanced meals and planning (what to eat) ahead of time,” she added.
“My kids love elephant ears,” Sermersheim said. “How can you go to the fair and not have an elephant ear?”
Shriver agrees that it’s all about enjoying food in moderation.
“A lot of people ask me what moderation is,” she said. “It’s not daily and sometimes it’s not weekly.
“You want to enjoy yourself and enjoy food; just do it in moderation,” she said.
So go ahead and eat that treat that can be found only once a year at the local fair, but beware of the calories, fat and sugar lurking within that deep-fried, sugary goodness.
The following nutritional data was gathered from Internet sources, such as Lighten Up with Kim Bensen and a Yahoo health article by David Zinczenko, author of the “Eat This, Not That” book series.
One deep-fried fair favorite is the funnel cake with powered sugar sprinkled on top. Yum, right? Sadly, an 8.3-ounce funnel cake packs 760 calories, 44 grams of fat and 43 grams of sugar.
Two sweet treats — cotton candy and snow cones — might lack the fat of the deep-fried delicacies, but the sugar content is off the charts.
A 2.1-ounce serving of cotton candy, which is nothing more than spun sugar, packs 220 calories and 56 grams of sugar.
And don’t be fooled by that snow cone. It’s mostly ice, right? Nope. It is loaded with 270 calories and 68 grams of sugar. According to Zinczenko, the snow cone syrup alone contains five tablespoons of pure sugar.
Another sugary enemy is the lemon shakeup. The sour lemons have to be offset by sugar and lots of it.
Depending on the size of the beverage, the shakeup might be a worse option than a snow cone. A 24-ounce shakeup has 300 calories and 74 grams of sugar while the 18-ounce size has 210 calories and 58 grams of sugar.
When it comes to the worst food that could be bought at the fair — or any concession stand for that matter — Bensen and Zinczenko agree it’s the basket of corn chips drenched in nacho cheese.
Oh, the warm, bubbly cheese and salty chips, it just doesn’t seem fair, but that basket is a real belly buster at 1,100 calories, 59 grams of fat and 1,580 milligrams of sodium.
Interestingly, Zinczenko suggests that instead of devouring a basket of nachos, a better choice would be eating a corn dog. Sermersheim also endorses eating a corn dog as that one fair food splurge.
Still, a corn dog has 250 calories (375 calories for a jumbo corn dog), 21 grams of fat and 810 milligrams of sodium.
But who’s counting calories and fat and sugar anyways when enjoying the local fair?