Dr. L. Lee Coyne
Nutrition Consulting
Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

Eating at Festivals, Fairs and Rodeos

Food at fairs and festivalsCelebrations, special events, festivals are all times when we "INDULGE" in our favorite comfort foods. It has been suggested (I have never verified it) that the highest rate of absenteeism from school occurs one or two days following a special holiday.

The reason suggested is that we tend to over eat or eat too many of the wrong things during such events and it overloads our immune system which in turn causes some form of illness.

The Calgary Stampede, K-Days, country fairs and other summer festivals and country fairs start soon and your food choices during these events may affect your health during the week and following weeks.

I dislike starting on the negative but it does serve to draw your attention to the concern.

Foods to Avoid

High sugar content foods are well known to suppress the immune system and that makes you vulnerable to colds, flu and other infections. There is also the "empty Calorie" issue in high sugar foods. They provide lots of calories but few nutrients. And of course there is the issue of an over stimulated pancreas from the absorption of high sugar and simple carbohydrate foods.

This over-stimulated pancreas means you have too much insulin in the blood and this leads to excess fat storage, hypoglycemic reactions, obvious inflammatory conditions (asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, migraines), invisible or silent inflammatory conditions (ADHD, heart disease, Alzheimer's, immune suppression), yeast infections and hormonal imbalances and even depression (which we recently learned – can be a trigger for developing diabetes). So if you are interested in or concerned about your health it would be wise to control your insulin, control your insulin, control your insulin!

Chemical cocktails are the other foods to pay attention to. I am talking about those with very long lists of ingredients containing many un-pronounceable words. Not only do these items challenge your immune system but, for some people, they contribute to behavior changes (like the ADHD child or adult) and many are known to be carcinogenic.

In this category I include the Trans Fatty Acids - those fats that have been over heated and / or partially hydrogenated). Tans Fatty Acids have been implicated in many health problems including heart disease and cancer. Never eat deep fried grease, cheap oils or margarine of any kind.

Therefore, to avoid regretting your trip to your favorite festival, minimize or avoid - cotton candy, soda pop, doughnuts, slurpees, cheap ice cream, French fries and even the famous corn dog, although it may be the least harmful of the list. Naturally you want to minimize alcohol because it can cause a real quick rise in insulin.

Choose These Foods

In order to control the insulin you want to eat protein in every meal and every snack and to eat some of the protein food first. Good choices would include Beef on a Bun but only eat half the bun (I know that would be difficult if they don't give you utensils). Choose to eat at some of the "complete meal" vendors like the on site restaurants and choose baked potatoes over French fries.

Hamburgers (again, half the bun), roast pork products, roast chicken or turkey, unsweetened milk products (look out for frozen and flavored yogurts they are loaded with sugar), fruit smoothies can be OK if they don't load them with sugar. Beef jerky is better than most hot dogs and local Italian sausage will be better than commercial smokies.

If the celebration includes events like the free breakfasts during the Calgary Stampede, be sure to get lots of meat or eggs and to eat some of the protein food first. Control your urge to drown the pancakes in syrup (a little can allow the flavor of the pancake to come through).

Actually the Stampede lunches and dinners are often a better choice. If you are serving your own “Stampede” style breakfast consider serving whole wheat or oatmeal pancakes to your guests and provide some peanut butter and home preserve jam as an alternative to syrup.

You need to understand that sugars and starches that raise insulin very fast also help to increase your hunger and can make you lethargic or put you to sleep. On the other hand, protein foods control insulin and help to keep you alert and awake with lots of energy (not to mention protecting your immune system).

Although it is a festival and a celebration it need not become a nutritional and health disaster to be enjoyed. Eat to stay healthy and alert and not to become ill and fall asleep. Enjoy your time at the summer festivals.