Every year at the Puyallup Fair, we'd have the same conversation. "We've been walking for five hours now," my mom would say. "We deserve to eat...

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Every year at the Puyallup Fair, we’d have the same conversation.

“We’ve been walking for five hours now,” my mom would say. “We deserve to eat this cookie.”

Or a deep-fried, doughy elephant ear doused in butter, cinnamon and sugar. Or a giant swirled ice cream cone. Or an Earthquake Burger with grilled onions spilling out every which way.

This year, I decided to put her theory to the test. Could a day of wandering past chainsaw carvings and piglets, rodeos and roller coasters actually burn as many calories as a typical fairgoer might absorb at all the tempting food stands along the way?

No matter how many calories I consumed, I figured I’d come out ahead, or at least break even. Right?

I found a partner in crime, clipped on a pedometer, tied on my favorite sneaks and steeled my stomach for a day of serious eating.

Our not-so-scientific survey began around 11:30 last Friday morning, opening day of the fair. We squeezed through the crush of families at the Gold Gate and made a beeline for the hot scones with butter and jam — our first 250 calories of the day.

We weren’t the only ones. Melissa Jensen, of Seattle, makes the scone counter her first stop each year.

“I only get scones at the fair. That’s what makes them special,” she said, standing with a friend in a line 30-people deep and growing.

If you go

Puyallup Fair

Where

Puyallup Fairgrounds, 110 Ninth Ave. S.W., Puyallup.

Admission

$7-$10.

Hours

10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekday.

Parking

$8 Friday and Saturday, $7 other days.

More information

253-841-5045 or www.thefair.com.

Trouble is, a whole lot of things are special at the fair, because you come across an array of food that’s hard to resist when you’re in the sunshine amid an amusing throng of fairgoers hauling giant teddy bears they won at the ring toss, or pulling wagonloads of chattering kids.

And those special things can add up. Fast. Here’s what I ate over the span of five hours in my attempt to replicate the cravings of an average fairgoer, with some ballpark estimates of the damage:

• That scone with butter and jam (250 calories).

• Half a Krusty Pup, the Puyallup Fair’s crunchy version of a corn dog (190 calories).

• A soft-serve ice cream cone, which seemed to be about a cup-and-a-half’s worth, from the dairy barn (450 calories).

• A barbecued pork sandwich (600 calories).

• Cole slaw (350 calories).

• A cloud of pink cotton candy bigger than my head (170 calories).

• Half of a half-pound Earthquake Burger the size of my face (550 calories).

• 16-ounce lemonade (190 calories).

• 16-ounce Coke (180 calories).

Lest you think all we did was eat, we wandered from one end of the fair and back, past the draft horses, those guys hawking chamois cloths, through the Hobby Hall and around a country band getting people in the mood to dance. We watched little kids hang onto grown sheep for dear life at the mutton bustin’ championship. We rode the Ferris wheel.

All told, I walked 7,854 steps, according to my fancy pedometer, which it claimed was about 3 ½ miles. It said I burned around 200 calories from that walking, far fewer than I had expected.

But I consumed nearly 3,000 calories, nearly double the recommended daily intake for a short lass of 28. And I hadn’t even eaten dinner yet!

One of the biggest challenges about eating in moderation at any kind of festival is the lack of solid nutritional data. Workers at the booths were little help. We visited several Web sites, including calorieking.com, assembled by a clinical dietician, that offered estimates.

This year, the fair has recognized the desire of some fairgoers to maintain their healthy ways by providing a list of dining options for those who must avoid sugar, or want to steer clear of carbs or meat or dairy. You can find the Healthy Fare List at www.thefair.com. Click on “Info & Services,” then, “Food Vendors.”

Then again, something about eating salad at a fair seems sacrilegious. Judy Simon, a clinical dietitian with the University of Washington Medical Center, says it’s OK to enjoy your favorites, provided you consider portion size. You can cut those calories in half if you split that funnel cake with a friend — or your entire family. Consider sticking to water rather than a sugary drink. Or eat before you go so that despite those wonderful smells, you won’t be able to fit much else in your tummy.

Or, just give in and relish the relish.

“You have to put it in perspective if something tastes really wonderful to you, and you only eat I once or twice a year,” she said. “Enjoy it, know it’s part of going to the fair. It’s not an everyday thing.”

As for me, I cleansed my arteries that evening at a vegetarian restaurant with a platter of salad as broad as my shoulders. Over the weekend I hit the gym for a date with the elliptical trainer and the free weights (about 400 calories burned). I went bowling with friends (about 250 calories burned when I actually bothered to throw the ball). I danced a few folk songs at a Swedish pancake breakfast Sunday morning (about 200 calories burned).

Thank God I have a whole year to catch up before we do this again.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com