April 25, 2014
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Seasonal Health

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Are summer fun foods worth the calories?

The temperature isn't the only thing to soar during the months of spring and summer. Baseballs soar into the outfield when a batter connects with a pitch. We soar on roller coasters with our arms raised high. And our caloric intake soars as we mindlessly munch on stadium or amusement park treats.

Ballparks and amusement parks have begun to cater to a more upscale palate, serving up specialty foods, vegetarian options, or flavours from local eateries. It's not unheard of to see a soccer fan scarf down sushi rolls between free kicks or a pack of teenagers noshing on smoked salmon cream cheese bagels while waiting in line for some thrill ride.

Some savvy park-goers pack a picnic to save calories and a bit of cash, but most of us indulge in day-out delicacies, like hot dogs, popcorn, funnel cakes, nachos, and ice cream. You can't check the label on most of these treats, so consider these recreational food facts for your next trip to the carnival or ballpark.

Fun food: Hot dogs

Nothing says ballpark like a hot dog. And nothing says "eat while standing in line" like a hot dog. Frankfurters, sausages, brats, or whatever you call them wherever you're from, the ubiquitous grilled treats are doggone popular.

Fair or foul? Hot dogs will never really be considered a health food. Whether they're assembled from beef, pork, or mixed meat products, hot dogs contain hefty helpings of sodium and fat. Franks made from turkey tend to be lower in fat, and vegetarian hot dogs made from tofu or vegetables offer another alternative. They may not have the snap of sausage, but pile on the mustard, relish, and sauerkraut and you may not miss the meat.

Fun food: Fries and onion rings

For some folks, a fun day out wouldn't feel complete without a little bit of grease. French fries and onion rings are easy snacks to grab and gobble while you're cheering on your team or bringing up the end of the longest line in the park.

Fair or foul? French fries and onion rings sully the perfectly healthy reputation of the onions and potatoes hiding beneath the crispy exteriors. The egg batter, buttermilk, and deep-fryer are really to blame for most of the calories and fat. Fried foods also tend to cause flare-ups of heartburn or indigestion. Dip your batter-fried bits in continental or Canadian condiments like mayonnaise or gravy, and you'll probably want to avoid the thrill rides for a little while.

Fun foods: Finger fare

Look at the stadium floor after a sports match, and you'd think a roving pack of hungry squirrels had just finished a feast. The discarded shells from sunflower seeds, fresh peanuts, and popcorn are evidence of the popularity of nuts, seeds, and other salty, bite-sized finger foods.

Fair or foul? Sunflower seeds and peanuts, such humble little snacks, should be considered superfoods. Heart-healthy nutrients practically burst from within those simple, discarded husks. Peanuts, for example, are packed with beneficial monounsaturated fats, B vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. Don't go nuts, though: A quarter cup of either peanuts or sunflower seeds contains over 200 calories. Eat just a handful as a snack. Another seedy snack, popcorn, has the potential to be healthy - that is, if it's air-popped and you avoid add-ons like butter or too much salt. And what about that most quintessential of baseball snacks, Cracker Jack? A half-cup serving of the caramel popcorn-and-peanut jumble has 120 calories and 15 grams of sugar.

Fun foods: Nachos

What do you call cheese that's not yours? Nacho cheese. And what do you call a platter of fried tortilla wedges, melted cheese, and any number of other hot, spicy, or savoury toppings? Delicious? Dangerous?

Fair or foul? A mere 7 nachos slathered in cheese, beans, ground beef, and peppers will rack up nearly 600 calories, with almost half of those calories coming from fat. Nacho add-ons like jalapenos and onions can be heartburn triggers, too, and the steamy combo of all of the above can be challenging for the most iron of stomachs.

Fun foods: Sweets

The carnival midway is sticky with the crumbs of all sorts of sweet treats, like funnel cakes, cotton candy, and ice cream.

Fair or foul? Obviously these sweet treats are more bad than good, but that's part of what makes them such a fun and very rare indulgence. A funnel cake, with its whip-fried dough all spattered with powdered sugar? 760 calories, mostly from fat and sugar. Dip a perfectly good apple in candied caramel? You've gone from 55 calories to well over 300. A wispy tuft of cotton candy? 170 calories of absolutely pink sugar.

Amusement park trips, a big ball game - they don't happen everyday. Pick your one favourite, can't-miss indulgence each trip, and savour it along with the fun and the memories. Or pick two, and share them both with a friend! Just leave the sticky sweets and fried treats behind when you head home. Don't hurry out to buy a hot dog cart or a deep-fryer for homemade funnel cakes.

Amy Toffelmire


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