How to indulge in fair food without going overboard

Jackie Alpers, a photographer from Tucson, Arizona, has documented food at her local county fair for the past couple of years.

"My favorite fair food has elements of the unexpected," she said. "It's bigger and weirder than the food I see every day, and it evokes awe... the more absurd the better."

Alpers, who tries mostly everything she photographs, drew the line when she snapped a picture of Super Fries -- french fries covered in pinto beans, chile sauce and cheese.

"It looked like they weighed about two pounds and that there was enough for a family of four to share," she said. "I'd say there was more saturated fat on that plate than I care to imagine."

But fat and calories aren't enough to stop many fair-goers from indulging in such creations once a year, even when healthy options are available.

Fair foods can be enjoyed in moderation, says Dr. Donald Hensrud, who specializes in nutrition and preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

"Instead of kind of throwing caution to the wind ... it's still possible to enjoy yourself and enjoy some good tastes, yet stay reasonably on track."

For that, Hensrud offered some suggestions:

Before you go

Devise a plan ahead of time.

"Put a little thought into it -- what kinds of foods do you want to try? How much do you want to eat?" he said. "Just have a general plan instead of going in and just eating everything in sight or the first thing that you see."

A workout and a healthy meal can help you resist temptation later.

"If you don't eat anything in the morning, you might get there and be ravenous ... that can lead to overeating," Hensrud said.

During the fair

Splitting food with family or friends allows smaller tastes of multiple things. In addition, you can satisfy yourself by having a little bit of food when you get to the fair, Hensrud suggested. He said it's best to stop eating before you're full.

"You'll be glad that you did later on," he says.

Remember to use some common sense. Limit portion sizes of fatty or fried foods.

He also recommended using your time at the fair to get in a great walk, helping to burn off some of those calories.

Finally, don't forget that liquid calories add up. Stay well-hydrated with water.

Following the fair

Indulging once a year "isn't going to cause a huge amount of problems," Hensrud said. "We can recover from that relatively easily."

"People should forgive themselves and move on... and not throw in the towel completely if they do overindulge."

Hensrud advised fair-goers to focus their attention elsewhere, instead of solely on the food. Typically, people can take in an abundance of sights and sounds from arts and crafts, scale-tipping pumpkins, livestock and live entertainment.

For Alpers, there is always something new to see -- and taste -- every year. She is looking forward to documenting next year's fair.

"Everyone has their own trigger and the fair is a perfect excuse to pull it," she said. "The look of excitement on their face is unmistakable, and similar to the look I see in line for the roller coaster or the freak show."

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