6 Terrifying Theme Park Foods

The freak show, haunted house, and Skull-Crushing Terror Drop of Impending Death—all child's play. Mere cheap thrills. If you want to see something truly frightening at your local amusement park, swing by the concession stand. On the menu: artery-clogging fatty foods and belt-busting confections.

We know this, of course. But then, why do we eat so much of it? Maybe it's because we're captive eaters at the theme park, and the healthy foods are all but nonexistent. But the truth is, you're not helpless. You may be locked into a car on the roller coaster and strapped to your seat on the swinging chairs, but when it comes to food, you're still in charge of everything that passes your lips. With a few smart Eat This, Not That! swaps, you can have fun and chow down without developing a freak-show-worthy belly.

To help you navigate the fun-house labyrinth of amusement park dining, we’ve compiled a list of foods to avoid. Study up before heading out to the park and you'll make it out unscathed.

Cotton Candy (2.1 oz)
220 calories
0 g fat
56 g sugar

Here's a brief intro to cotton candy production: To make the "cotton," the candy maestro melts sugar into liquid, sprays it into thin strands, and then rolls it into a ball. Essentially that makes this treat no different than eating sugar straight from the bag, a serious problem considering it has more sweet stuff than three scoops of Breyers Chocolate Chip ice cream and not one iota of redeeming nutritional value. That's enough to shift your body into fat-storage mode and land you a belly as soft as the confection you're eating. Eat a popsicle instead to save a whopping 46 grams of sugar!

Eat This Instead!
Popsicle (1 popsicle)
45 calories
0 g fat
8 g sugar

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Snow Cone (3 oz. syrup)
270 calories
0 g fat
68 g sugar

You know what's ever-so-slightly worse than consuming liquid sugar in strand form? Consuming liquid sugar in liquid form, which is precisely what you do when you eat a snow cone. The ice is completely benign, but the syrup it's drenched in is anything but—it harbors more than five tablespoons of pure sugar! Go with a scoop of ice cream instead; you could eat three and a half scoops before matching the sugar in one snow cone, and the cream's protein and fat will help temper the rush of glucose that hits your blood. 

Eat This Instead!
Strawberry Ice Cream (1/2 cup)
125 calories
5.5 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
19 g sugar

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Lemonade (24 oz)
300 calories
0 g fat
74 g sugar

Noticing a trend here? Lemonade, like cotton candy and snow cones, earns all of its calories from sugar. No wonder the summertime beverage earns its own category in this must-see list of The Worst Drinks in America. The problem is that lemon juice is inherently sour, and half a cup contains only three grams of sugar. That means virtually all the sweetness in the cup comes from added sugars, which puts lemonade on par with that other liquid candy we call soda. By switching to unsweetened tea and adding sugar yourself, you can control the number of empty calories in your cup.

Eat This Instead!
Iced Tea (24 oz sweetened with 2 sugar packets)
30 calories
0 g fat
8 g sugar

Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge with Nuts (3 oz.)
400 calories
18 g fat (8.5 g saturated)
55 g sugar

No other theme park candy comes close to the caloric density of fudge. Each single ounce packs well over 100 calories—not to mention six grams of fat and nearly five spoonfuls of sugar. If you're looking to pack on pounds, go for it. Otherwise, choose another treat. Kettle corn is a great option. It marries salty and sweet in a relatively low-calorie package, and it delivers a bonus package of belly-filling fiber.

Eat This Instead!
Kettle Corn (3 cups)
195 calories
7.5 g fat (0 g saturated)
9 g sugar

Funnel Cake with Powdered Sugar
580 calories
29 g fat (5 g saturated; 2.5 g trans)
43 g sugar

The fried dough and refined sugar are bad enough. But the most concerning part about this treat is the trans fat. When it comes to eliminating partially hydrogenated oils from their deep fryers, amusement park venders aren't under the same pressure as restaurants. As a result, funnel cakes have the potential to put a strain on your cardiovascular system. If you simply must have a fried treat, opt for a doughnut instead.

Eat This Instead!
Doughnut with Powdered Sugar
190 calories
10.5 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
22 g sugar

Nachos with Cheese (40 chips, 4 oz cheese)
1,100 calories
59 g fat (18.5 g saturated)
1,580 mg sodium

If this is your lunch, expect to leave the park with more belly cargo than you brought in. Nearly half the calories in this dish come from two sources of fat: the oil used to fry the chips and the oil used to make the "cheese" sauce. That's not good. Look—you're probably not going to settle for (or find) a grilled chicken garden salad with fresh-harvested dandelion sprouts on top, but you can find a decent meal to combat hunger. Your best bet is a corn dog. It's not a paragon of nutritional excellence, but it does fill your stomach with some belly-filling protein and has 800 fewer calories than the nachos. If you're still hungry after one, order another. Or eat a burger. (Most fast food options are around 450 to 700 calories.) You'll still save hundreds of calories.

Eat This Instead!
240 calories
21 g fat (8 g saturated)
810 mg sodium

EAT THIS, NOT THAT! SECRET: Here's the best way to avoid the cheap thrills at the amusement park concession stand: Bring your own fiber- and protein-loaded snacks. Munch as you meander the midway and you'll control your cravings and avoid overindulging in funnel cake. Check out this essential list of the 50 Best Snack Foods in America.


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