published Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Five tips for eating healthy at Riverbend

Choose a frozen lemonade over ice cream if you're watching what you eat at Riverbend.
Choose a frozen lemonade over ice cream if you're watching what you eat at Riverbend.

Each year, when Riverbend comes around, Chattanoogans get a chance to indulge their ears -- and their stomachs.

"This is really the one time of year that people eat this type of menu, and they look forward to it every year," said Karen Shostak, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Festival, which produces Riverbend.

While popular favorites like chicken on a stick, blooming onions and ice cream aren't on anyone's heart-healthy menu, Shostak said it's a good time to have a rare treat.

In fact, she admitted, it's the one time a year she lets her husband have funnel cake.

While eating healthfully at Riverbend may seem like, as registered dietitian Amy Autuori said, "an oxymoron," there are, in fact, ways to enjoy the gustatory offerings of the festival without sacrificing health entirely.

The experts agree that it's not necessary to deprive oneself of Riverbend food, just to limit the intake thereof.

"You have to be smart about it," said Autuori, of Memorial Hospital.

"Don't deprive yourself," said Madison Jahn, registered dietitian for Sodexho at Erlanger Health System. "Just don't overindulge."

Here are five ways to heed the health experts' advice.

• Share. Choosing one or two treats is, indeed, a far better option than having everything, which is neither wise nor necessary.

"Anything can be OK in moderation," Jahn said.

When it comes to rich Riverbend foods, sharing is indeed caring, both for self and for friends. You don't have to eschew sweet or fried treats entirely, but try indulging a little, rather than a lot.

"If you have to have a fried Twinkie," said Autuori, "split it between two people."

• Don't super-size. Sure, getting a large drink instead of a small might seem like a little more bang for the buck, but it's your body that will take the hit with all those added calories. Select modest-sized treats -- a single-scoop ice cream cone instead of a triple, for example.

• Prepare ahead of time. A good way to resist the temptation of Riverbend -- "all that deep-fried food just smells so great," said Autuori -- is to not go to the festival with a growling stomach. Eat a small dinner before you go, perhaps a salad with grilled chicken, and resist the urge to fast all day so as to save room for Riverbend treats.

"At that point," Autuori said, "you are going to be so hungry you're going to binge."

• Make smart(er) choices. Sure, there are very few completely healthy choices at any festival, but there are some things that are better than others. For example, said Jahn, save some calories by eschewing the bun on a hot dog or by removing the breading from fried treats, like corn dogs. Funnel cakes are being offered in a diabetic-friendly version, made with Splenda instead of sugar, Shostak said.

Another suggestion, Jahn said, is to opt for a frozen lemonade instead of an ice cream.

"It would be fat-free but still cold and refreshing," she said.

• Drink wisely. It's ever so easy to drink one's calories -- 12 ounces of Coca Cola, for example, has 150 calories. Opt for unsweetened tea and water rather than sugary sodas, fruit drinks and alcohol, which can also be dehydrating in the heat.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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