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Trying to find healthful food at a state fair is no easy task. But if you're there all day, hey, you've got to eat. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering politicians at the Iowa State Fair, and she set out to find nutritious options amid deep-fried Oreos and foot-long corndogs.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: The Iowa State Fair has been littered with presidential hopefuls this week, and one of the rites of passage is trying food on a stick.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I highly recommend.
MCCAMMON: That's Hillary Clinton sampling an Iowa pork chop. But aside from the politics, we went searching for healthier options with Nikki Stahr. She's a dietitian with the Iowa-based Hy-Vee grocery chain.
NIKKI STAHR: You guys want to spin the wheel?
MCCAMMON: Stahr is running a booth promoting healthy eating and portion control at the Iowa State Fair, and she has her work cut out for her.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Fruits.
STAHR: Fruits, all right.
MCCAMMON: And there's an old-fashioned, hand-dipped ice cream stand and oven-baked hot chocolate chip cookie stand right across from her, so she's got some competition for her message of healthy eating.
STAHR: As a registered dietician, we talk a lot about making choices.
MCCAMMON: As we step out into one of the fair's many rows of concession stands, Stahr says it's all about balance.
STAHR: There's no bad foods so if someone is looking for healthier options, there certainly is a variety out here that you can do that, from, like, you know, grilled turkey tenderloins, turkey sandwiches, turkey wraps.
MCCAMMON: But I mean, like, I just saw a sign that says greater taters. It's, like, all fried potatoes.
STAHR: Well, we certainly want to keep fried foods and higher-fat foods in moderation.
MCCAMMON: Stahr admits she did have a corn dog at the fair...
STAHR: We always have those confessions of a dietician.
MCCAMMON: ...But she says she'll add to that some fresh watermelon or veggies. There's a stand where you can get salad on a stick, made with carrots, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. Speaking of fresh produce, there's the corn stand, where you'll find Iowa sweet corn covered in pork sausage, cheese and mayonnaise.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Corn in a cup - just corn and butter?
TAMMY NEWTON: I don't want no butter.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Just corn.
MCCAMMON: Tammy Newton lives near Des Moines and says she tries to eat healthy at the fair.
NEWTON: I work too hard to stay fit and healthy. I'm a five-year cancer survivor this year.
MCCAMMON: Newton ordered plain old corn, grilled, no toppings. But there's a downside to that approach.
NEWTON: That's all I get for five bucks? Five bucks for that? Seriously.
MCCAMMON: Of course, the fair is better known for food choices that take eating meat on a stick to the extreme, like one of this year's new foods.
JONI BELL: It's called the bacon brisket bomb.
MCCAMMON: Joni Bell runs the Rib Shack, which developed this concoction made of ground brisket.
BELL: Then it's infused with a white pepper cheese, fresh salsa, jalapenos, a little bit of onion and it's bacon wrapped and smoked for three hours. And its glazed with our sweet chili barbecue sauce. And it's all gluten-free.
MCCAMMON: So does that mean it's good for you?
BELL: Yes, absolutely - eight ounces of pure meat.
MCCAMMON: And lots of people come for more traditional favorites.
SUSAN PASCASIO: Foot-long corn dog. Must have foot-long corn dog.
MCCAMMON: Susan Pascasio of Des Moines has been volunteering at the fair for years and she has a list of not-to-miss favorites. As for calorie counting...
PASCASIO: No, no. This is the time when you splurge because this is only 11 days out of the year. You've got to do it, or you just might as well go home.
MCCAMMON: Sarah McCammon, NPR News.