Let's face it, the real reason we head to the ballpark every year isn't to root on our favorite pitcher or watch our home team win its first World Series. Baseball is about two things: 1) guys in tight pants and 2) food.
Funny thing is, all the food that stadiums serve up can keep you out of your own favorite pair of pants. So when it comes to making it through the season without resorting to sweat pants, it's all about labeling the worst of the worst.
Here's a look into the stadium's most common food strikeouts — and how you can sub them out without offending your all-American taste buds.
The Strikeout: Nachos
A standard serving of nachos contains more than 1,000 calories, but perhaps the biggest issue is the additives, says Laura Cipullo, RD, owner of Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services in New York City. The chips are brimming with salt and the nacho cheese is probably more chemical than it is cheese. "Processed cheese foods" only have to be composed of 51 percent cheese. The rest can be anything the manufacturer thinks will make you eat more. Gross. Plus, let's face it, you'll devour those nachos in five minutes and still be hungry.
Sub it out: Soft pretzel
Granted you don't dip it in that gnarly cheese, a soft pretzel contains roughly 450 calories, says Cipullo. Make it healthier by skipping on sodium: Ask for a salt-free pretzel or at least brush some of the salt from the top. If you feel the need to dip, grab a packet of mustard. You'll actually score some potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium, she says.
The Strikeout: Hard Lemonade
"Hard lemonade is high in carbs, alcohol, and calories," says nutritionist Monica Reinagel, LN, CNS. "Plus the sweet taste makes it easier to swill these down." Sweet is right. While a bottle of hard lemonade can send more than 30 grams of sugar swimming through your veins, ballpark options can be even higher, as most stadiums use sugar-based mixes. When you down massive amounts of sugar with your booze, your liver can't handle both and lets your body store the calories as a type of fat called triglycerides. They congregate in the cells around your belly, the unhealthiest and most unflattering place to pack on pounds.
Sub it out: Beer
Whatever the brew, beer is still a better choice, says Reinagel. Besides being lower in calories and sugar, recent Japanese research found that hops' naturally occurring flavonoids promote muscle mass. They also reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Beer is also rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and calcium, which can up your overall health and promote energy. Just remember not to overdo it. All you need is one to reap the benefits.
The Strikeout: Cotton Candy
While it's surprisingly low-cal (about 300 calories a bag), it's pretty much just sugar. One 3-ounce bag contains about 71,000 milligrams of the sweet stuff — that's more than 80 percent of your daily-recommended allowance. And none of those sugars are from natural sugars; they are all added.
Sub it out: Frozen yogurt
If you are in need of a sugar fix, you might as well get some protein with it. Most nonfat original or plain varieties (typically the lowest-calorie flavor) contain about 90 calories and 3 grams of protein per half cup. As long as you top it with fruit — and not candy — you'll do okay, Cipullo says.
The Strikeout: Popcorn
While the air popped variety packs more fiber than brown rice and more antioxidants than fruit and veggies, what you get at the ballpark is pretty much a health offender. The stuff is cooked in oil, butter flavoring, and loads of salt, which keeps you slurping down calorie-filled drinks refill after refill. And so much for sharing: In one Cornell study, people with large buckets of popcorn ate about twice as much as those who had medium buckets — even when the researchers filled some of them with two-week-old kernels.
Sub it out: Cracker Jacks
If you love popcorn (and who doesn't) a Cracker Jack box is far better than a tub of popcorn. "One half cup only contains about 120 calories and since Cracker Jacks contain peanuts as well, you are getting monounsaturated fats and vitamin E," says Cipullo.
The Strikeout: Corn Dog
That battered and deep-fried dog packs about 400 calories into five measly bites. Even worse, it's full of bad carbs, saturated fat, and the dreaded trans fat. Trans fat raises your levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and lowers your levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, upping your risk of heart disease (the number-one killer of women in the U.S.).
Sub it out: Hot dog
As anyone can attest, a hot dog isn't a health food. But it is better than a deep-fried one. It's lower in sugar, fat, and calories than the corn dog. And since you can fill it with tons of fresh ingredients, it can be more filling for fewer calories. "Redeem it by piling on the sauerkraut and raw onions," says Reinagel. "Although they might not make you popular with your date, the antioxidants do help counteract the nitrites in the dog."
The Strikeout: Fries
You know they're bad, but you might be surprised just how bad ballpark fries can be. Whether they are plain or topped with Parmesan cheese, they can easily come with more than 1,000 calories. They are also pretty much pure, fried carbs, so they speed through your system, spiking your blood sugar and shooting up your hunger factor two innings later.
Sub it out: Peanuts
Low in carbs and high in protein, peanuts are also full of healthy monounsaturated fat. If you flag down the peanut man in the stands, remember that peanuts in their shells are your best bet. The shells basically slow you down to keep you from overeating, Cipullo says.
Baseball's Biggest Calorie Bombs
Whatever you do, don't order these gut busters — unless you plan to split them with everyone else in the stands, that is.
Luther Burger, GCS Ballpark
If 1,550 calories isn't enough to send you running, the notion of a bacon cheeseburger sandwiched between two sides of a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donut should be. Our only hope is that they were able to slash some calories with that hole in the middle.
Totally Rossome Boomstick, Rangers Ballpark
As big as six regular hot dogs, this jumbo dog is topped with brisket, pico de gallo, sour cream, and Nacho Cheese Doritos. While those behind the ridiculous concoction wouldn't reveal exactly how many calories the food's packing, they admitted it had to be close to a day's worth of calories. That's 2,000, FYI.
Souvenir Bucket of Popcorn, Yankee Stadium
With this purchase, you'll take more than a souvenir bucket home. If you eat all of the bucket's 2,473 calories, you'll have some extra pounds to drag home with you, too.
North Side Twist, Wrigley Field
When a soft pretzel comes in a 12-inch pizza box, you know it's going to be bad. This pretzel comes with three ridiculously unhealthy dipping sauces: chipotle honey mustard, beer cheddar cheese, and cinnamon cream. This baby will set you back 1,480 calories.
The StrasBurger, Washington Nationals Park
Eight pounds of ground brisket, chuck, and short ribs on a bun with a secret sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and pickles. It's estimated to weigh in at 8,000 to 10,000 calories. Add that to the burger's 600 to 700 grams of fat and 2,500 to 3,000 milligrams of sodium, and your arteries will be screaming.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, June 2013.
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