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Calgary Stampede Food: Deep-Fried Options Go Up Against Healthy Choices

07/09/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/07/2012 05:12 EDT
Calgary Stampede
CALGARY - What in tarnation?

Something alarming is invading the Calgary Stampede midway — known to some as Heart Attack Alley.

The tempting culinary hodgepodge of deep-fried everything has brought us such concoctions as the 1,550-calorie doughnut cheeseburger with bacon, the macaroni and cheese pizza, deep-fried Coke, deep-fried Pop-tarts and a pulled pork parfait featuring mashed potatoes, gravy and pork presented to resemble an ice cream dessert.

And don't forget traditional fare such as corndogs and mini-doughnuts.

But the junk food haven is becoming a little bit healthier this year. The Stampede is offering alternatives for people who are lactose intolerant or who are seeking gluten-free food.

"It came about from people just asking. From family members to friends to our customers asking, 'I'm sensitive to gluten or I'm lactose intolerant. What do you have that you can help us out with?' So we did our research," said James Radke, the Stampede's midway manager.

"People still want the fun stuff. Don't get me wrong. Salads don't do well here.

"People forget their diets for the 10 days, but for those people who still want to have a good time but have sensitivities, we're trying to help them."

SEE: Food from the Calgary Stampede. Story continues below:

Food At The Calgary Stampede

Some of the healthier options include a stir-fry from the Salt Spring Noodle Bar, gluten-free bison ribs and burgers, sugar-free lemonade and gluten-free hotdogs.

"It's the evolution, but the evolution is going the other direction as well. It's going toward healthy and food sensitivities, but it's also going unhealthy with the deep-fried Wagon Wheel and the deep-fried Kool-Aid or deep-fried pickle chips," Radke said.

Also new to the menu this year is whisky-soaked fudge and bacon sundae funnel cakes, a rich combination of fatty pork and chocolate.

A Calgary dietitian and food blogger said calling the new offerings healthy is a bit of a stretch.

"I think it is good they are trying to include more gluten-free or lactose-free sort of options. I think the idea that gluten-free is healthier is a misconception though," explained Vincci Tsui, creator of the Ceci n'est pas un blog.

"Obviously people with celiac disease or people who have gluten-sensitivity need to be on the gluten-free diet, but for anyone else gluten is not some evil fat-causing thing," she said.

"For a regular person, eliminating gluten from your diet doesn't make it any healthier and gluten-free foods aren't necessarily healthier than ones with gluten."

Tsui said it is good that gluten-free is getting attention since rates of celiac disease are on the rise.

But the Calgary Stampede isn't exactly the sort of place one concentrates on dieting, she pointed out.

"Stampede food is definitely not meant to be healthy and I'm sure some of the vendors may pride themselves on having really unhealthy choices — all the deep-fried foods, the high sugar, high fat, high salt and those sorts of things."