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It’s county fair time. How can you attend without putting on pounds?

The Centre County Dairy quart go down the parade route at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair in August 2017.
The Centre County Dairy quart go down the parade route at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair in August 2017. Centre Daily Times, file

Late summer means county fair time throughout Pennsylvania. A visit to the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair or another nearby event is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the region’s agricultural heritage and have fun with family and friends. Such a visit also is a big challenge to healthy-eating plans thanks to the tempting aromas of gyros, pizza, cheesesteaks and much more around every corner.

Yes, it’s possible to enjoy the local fair without taking a hit to wellness. Consider these tips to help plan a fun and healthy fair visit:

Eat at home first. It’s almost impossible to resist teaberry ice cream, hot sausage or cinnamon buns on an empty stomach. Have a healthy snack before leaving for the fair so it’s easier to make good choices.

Choose one favorite treat. Don’t try to avoid all those delicious fair foods. Choose one special food to enjoy, such as deep-fried Oreos, cotton candy or a corn dog. Then, seek healthier options the rest of the day.

Drink plenty of water. Water contains zero calories and is exactly what the body needs, especially during hot late-summer days when dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Consider bringing a refillable water bottle with you.

Avoid sugary drinks. Fresh-squeezed lemonade or a giant cup of soda sounds refreshing, but each contains hundreds of “empty” calories. Again, water is the most refreshing drink at the fair, whether it’s free from a fountain or purchased in a bottle.

Limit alcoholic beverages. Although alcohol is prohibited at the Grange Fair, some Pennsylvania fairs and festivals do sell alcoholic beverages. Have just one drink, or skip these liquid calories altogether. Too much alcohol can be dehydrating and make it difficult to recognize early signs of heat exhaustion.

Put a priority on protein. From grilled chicken to kebabs, high-protein meats deliver good nutrition and a lower calorie count, as long as they are not breaded and deep-fried.

Deconstruct a snack. Lose the extra carbs by ordering a pulled-pork sandwich or hot dog without the bun. Corn on the cob is great if it’s not drenched in butter and salt.

Select the healthier option. Instead of ordering a two-scoop ice cream cone, cool off with a low or no sugar added Italian ice. The vendor may even offer sugar-free syrups.

Limit salty foods. Salted french fries aren’t the only danger to blood pressure. Many prepared foods contain hidden salt, from pierogies to pot pie.

Share with a friend. The first bite is always the best, so split a treat with someone else for twice as much tastiness with half the calories.

Skip the bacteria. If a vendor’s condiments look like they’ve been sitting in the sun all day, take a pass on the possibility of a foodborne illness.

Wash hands. Walking around the fair, it’s all too easy to visit with animals and then order a hand-held snack. Be extra careful about washing hands with soap before eating.

Stop when full. Just because the vendor dished up a giant plate of funnel cake doesn’t mean you need to eat the entire serving. Taste, enjoy and realize when enough is enough.

Consider peanuts and popcorn. These two treats are great snack options if available without added salt or butter. If the peanuts are still in the shell, that’s even better because they take longer to eat.

Walk everywhere. The good news is that an extra treat can be offset by extra exercise at the fair. Trek to the arena to watch 4-H kids show their livestock, walk the midway from ride to ride and then check out row after row of prize-winning vegetables, fruits, pies, pickles and more. Even if a tram ride to the parking lot beckons at the end of the day, all that exercise will have added thousands of extra steps to balance out that fabulous fair food.

Bryan Martin, MD, and Mark Molckovsky, MD, are both part of the Penn State Health Family and Community Medicine Residency Program at Mount Nittany Medical Center.
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