Calories don't count during the Calgary Stampede.
You can keep telling yourself that, but the 10-day celebration can really wear you out if you don't watch what you eat. For newbies who are not familiar with the extravaganza, most of the foods are battered and deep fried, then washed down with a pint or pop.
Clearly, the best thing would be to bring your own food that is freshly made from quality ingredients so that you can control the sugar, fat and sodium content. Don't worry, we're not about to suck the fun out of Stampede completely by doing that. But, you might want to choose one or two "must-have" items instead of over-indulging in the whole lot.
We asked Calgary-based dietician Vincci Tsui to weigh in on fan favourites and the alternatives, and give us a few tips to keep in mind.
Foods to eat
Esquites from Los Compadres
One of the few veggie dishes at Stampede, the warm corn salad in a cup is a new addition to the lineup of midway foods.
"It sounds like it'll be a delicious take on a classic summer vegetable, but I would be interested to know how much sodium is in it," says Tsui.
Naacos from Naaco Truck
Another new addition to midway foods, these neo-Indian naan-taco hybrids are all the rage. The fresh wraps are loaded with veggies and they come in a huge portion.
According to Tsui, a typical naan is equal to three or four servings of grain products, as defined by Canada's Food Guide, about half of the daily requirement for adults.
"Your best bet is to split one with a friend, or go with the option to substitute the naan with brown rice," she says. "That will make it easier to control how much you eat."
Stir-fries from Salt Spring Island
These noodle boxes with veggies and chicken are not cooked in oil, so they are great for those watching their waistline. Salt Spring Island offers gluten-free options for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Tsui warns about the amount of sodium, however, with dishes made with traditional Asian condiments like soy sauce, hoisin sauce and oyster sauce.
Similar to a food court, a variety of foods are offered in this sit down area located on the lower level of the Big Four Building. For freshly prepared foods and drinks that are on the healthier side, Tsui suggests going to Jugo Juice for produce and smoothies, and Sumo Express for sushi.
"Staying hydrated when it's hot is super important," says Tsui. To quench your thirst, go for lemonade with freshly squeezed lemons and opt for less sugar when possible.
Foods to avoid
An iconic meal during Calgary Stampede is the pancake breakfast, offered in various restaurants in the city and at the Stampede grounds. Tsui says they do vary in terms of healthfulness, based on ingredients used, portion size and side dishes that come with the meal.
"What makes pancake breakfasts potentially unhealthy is that it's really easy to over-indulge because they are free and easily accessible", she says.
For a pancake breakfast that's a little better for you, Tsui suggests the organic, whole grain pancakes from Community Natural Foods.
Extremely popular and bad in many ways, these morsels are dangerous for their fat content and sodium. According to Tsui, all fats pack in nine calories per gram -- more than twice the calories per gram of carbs and protein. She also cautions against pickles for their high level of sodium, which can raise blood pressure. Another hidden danger of these nibblies is they are more likely to make you drink more sugary drinks from the thirst.
It's not just the pickles, either. Beware of accompanying sauces and dips.
"Dips and sauces can be 'sneaky' if you are watching your weight or trying to eat healthfully, because they don't fill you up very much, but can add a lot of extra fat and sodium," says Tsui.
Taco in a bag
Back for a second year, taco in a bag is simply a bag of Doritos chips with fixings on top, like seasoned ground beef, cheese, salsa and sour cream. The bag of chips alone is high in calories, fat and sodium, but the extra ingredients really push those over the top.
"Eating actual tacos might be a better bet. Taco shells do not have the seasoning that goes on Doritos, and it's easier to portion control," says Tsui.
A perennial of midway foods is the deep-fried Oreo. Tsui estimates 80-100 calories per cookie from the addition of the batter and deep frying. A serving of several cookies would equate to a small meal, but without any vitamins, minerals or fibre.
Red velvet funnel cake
This deep fried cake batter, topped with powdered sugar and icing is all forms of sugar in one dish. That along with fat and dough, without a lot of other vitamins and minerals, this what they call, "empty calories."
For more information on foods served at Calgary Stampede, visit the food section on their website.
Vincci Tsui is a registered dietitian. She has provided numerous interviews for print publications, contributed to Culinaire and Calgary's Child magazines, and has appeared on CityTV's Breakfast Television and Global TV.