Whether you go to watch baseball, football, basketball or U2, there's nothing like spending the day at the stadium. No matter if your team wins or loses, watching the game lets you forget about everything else and immerse yourself in the experience. Part of the fun, of course, is the food, and I'm certainly not going to ruin it by telling you not to eat — or to bring along a bag of carrots.
However, some stadium snacks are healthier than others, so here's the lowdown on what you need to know:
CRACKER JACK VS. COTTON CANDY
Cotton candy is sugar that's been heated, colored and spun into threads with added air. Cotton candy on a stick (about 1 ounce) has 105 calories, but when bagged (2 ounces) it has double that number: 210. Cracker Jack is candy-coated popcorn with some peanuts thrown in. A stadium-size box has 3.5 ounces and 420 calories, so cotton candy is clearly a better deal. If you must buy the Cracker Jack, however, at least the box has 7 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber.
HAMBURGER VS. CHICKEN SANDWICH
A 6-ounce hamburger has about 490 calories without even counting cheese or other toppings. A 6-ounce grilled chicken sandwich has only 280 calories — a much better deal.
CHICKEN TENDERS VS. WRAP SANDWICH
A typical wrap sandwich (6 ounces) has 345 calories and is usually the smarter choice, depending on the ingredients. Six ounces of chicken tenders, on the other hand, have 446 calories, not including the barbecue sauce, which can have as much as 30 calories per tablespoon.
HOT DOG VS. PIZZA
A regular hot dog with mustard is your best bet, totaling about 290 calories: 180 for the 2-ounce dog, 110 for the bun, and virtually no calories for regular yellow mustard. Sauerkraut adds another 5 to 10 calories (2 tablespoons), ketchup adds 30 (2 tablespoons) and relish, another 40 (2 tablespoons). Just be aware of the foot-long hot dogs sold at many stadiums, which can have double the calories in both frankfurter and bun, bringing the grand total to 580 without any toppings. Pizza at the stadium is a bit larger than a typical slice, about one-sixth of a 16-inch pie (rather than one-eighth), which comes to 435 calories per slice.
SUPER NACHOS VS. FRIES VS. CORN
A 12-ounce serving of super nachos with cheese (40 chips, 4 ounces of cheese) has more than 1,500 calories — wow! You're better off with a 6-ounce serving of french fries at about 500 calories. Corn on the cob, however, is your best option — 80 calories for the corn and about 100 calories for the butter topping. You could even have two (360 calories) and still save 140 calories.
Peanuts in the shell vs. popcorn vs. soft pretzel vs. fruit cup
Stadiums sell as many as 6,000 bags of peanuts on a game day, depending on attendance. The only problem is that an 8-ounce bag has 840 calories, and a 12-ounce bag has 1,260. The upside is that peanuts are high in magnesium, vitamin E, niacin, folate and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The popcorn comes in a huge tub, often heaping with more than 120 ounces of popcorn at roughly 1,500 calories. Your best deal is a plain, soft pretzel (5.5 ounces) at about 400 calories — but beware of those huge pretzels (7 to 8 ounces), which have about 700 calories. However, your best bet, and definitely the healthiest choice is a 6-ounce fruit cup — only 80 calories each.
DRAFT BEER VS. SODA
The draft beer served at the stadium comes in 20-ounce cups, which means about 240 calories. Get a light draft, and you'll save 60 calories for a 20-ounce serving. Soda is no bargain at 230 for 20 ounces.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.