Dr. Campbell: How to handle State Fair foods

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Each year thousands of North Carolinians head out to the State Fair and this year is no exception. Many fairgoers list their number one reason for going as “the food.”

Many of these foods are fried and high in fat and sugars. These foods can be nutrient poor and calorie dense. When approaching the fair, we must be careful when it comes to food choices.

Food item Calories
Corn on the cob w/ butter 179
Corn dog (4 oz) 250
Cotton candy (1 bag) 323
Fried Snickers 445
Funnel cake 452
Cream puff (4.3 oz) 500
Greek Salad (14 oz) 520
Mini donuts (1 bag) 622
Cheesecake on a stick 655
Cheese curds (1 order) 759
Ice cream, sugar cone, small (10 0z) 775
Smoked turkey leg with skin barbeque (1 lb 3 oz) 1136
Hot Fresh Mini-Donuts booth still going strong after 35 years at NC State Fair

The best way to enjoy the fair food and not destroy our waistlines is to graze.

Share different items with your family or friends. Don’t feel like you have to eat all of any portion. Fair portions are huge.

  • Plan ahead. We tend to grab everything in our path when we’re hungry, thereby making less healthy choices. Mapping your trip out ahead of time so you can indulge in the extra calories where you really want to and not waste them on whatever your path comes across. Figure out what your Food priorities are for the fair and make sure to sample those first.
  • Take a lap or two. Some fairgoers make a habit of walking the grounds, then going back for the food they wish to try. This is another helpful way to avoid over-doing it in a moment of hunger or impulse. Plus, the extra walking can’t hurt.
  • Make substitutions. Instead of eating a corn dog, fries and a funnel cake, then washing it down with a giant soda, switch out a few items for healthier options. Consider eating a salad—but not one loaded with bacon bits, croutons and creamy dressing—with your corn dog; then follow it up with low-fat frozen yogurt. Grab an unsweetened ice tea for refreshment. Still don’t want to give up cheese curds or fries? Get them, eat one or two, and share the rest!
  • Be realistic. Just because food is advertised as fried in “healthy” oil does not mean it is healthy. It is still deep fried. Lemonade may be made with lemons, but it is full of sugar.
  • Watch what you drink. Liquid calories add up quickly. Alcohol, soda, slushies and other sugar-filled concoctions can add hundreds of calories. Try to drink water as much as possible.
  • Set a limit. Consider making a list of “must-have” foods. Allow yourself and your children each a couple of items. Setting limits can help ensure you all pick items you really want to enjoy. Again, sharing is another way to try different foods without overdoing it!
  • Go early, not often. You may be less tempted by food vendors if you go early in the day when the fair opens. If you are a frequent fairgoer who attends on multiple days, you may want to make it less about the food.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The fair is notoriously, and rightly, known for its fried, sugar-coated, bad-for-your-waistline-foods. However, you can combine unhealthy choices with one healthy choice—for instance a corn dog and a salad.

Chances are you’re going to the fair with at least one friend, co-worker or family member, right? Perfect! Split things. There is no reason why each family member needs to have their own basket of cheese curds, bucket of fries or cone of cookies. Fair foods are meant to be shared. It’s a win-win for your wallet, waistline and it allows you to try more foods. Dietitians also offer these tips to help take the scare out of fair foods:

Even with the relatively tame State Fair food combo of a corn dog, corn on the cob with butter, and a chocolate shake, the calories equal 1,277 calories and 56 grams of fat. It is estimated that this meal could be burned off in 2.5 hours of running or 5 hours of walking.

At the end of the day, we all want to look back on our time at the fair with exhausted satisfaction and not remorse for everything we ingested. As with all things, practice moderation and you’ll be just fine.

For more information on everything you need to know about this year’s State Fair, click here.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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